The Best iOS Audio Interfaces – An Overview and Comparison

With iPads and iPhones getting better and more capable of supporting various DAWs, no wonder so many people decide not only to record but mix and master on these portable devices.

But, in order to get the most out of your tablet, you need a good audio interface. While there are many to choose from, some just perform better than others.

Let’s take a look at the best iOS audio interfaces you can get today.

Focusrite iTrack Solo

 

Focusrite has already proven that they know their business so far, with many amazing audio interfaces. But how does their iTrack Solo perform?

In terms of build quality, this interface feels quite premium. The aluminum unibody case isn’t just sturdy but will look nice on your desk as well.

There are 2 inputs on the front. An XLR for the mic, with its respective gain knob, and one for the instrument with a gain knob as well. Apart from that, the front stays pretty simple. Just a big monitor volume knob, a headphone output, and a direct monitor switch.

A neat feature Focusrite included are the LED halos around the gain knobs. The color of these halos tells you if the signal is clipping, and whether the levels are too high.

The back sports USB 2.0 and Device link connectors alongside stereo line outputs.

If you need a simple yet effective audio interface to use with your iPad, the Focusrite iTrack Solo is a great option, especially when considering it costs around $100.

Learn more about Focusrite iTrack Solo

Roland Duo- Capture EX

 

If you have any experience with music and instruments, Roland should be a familiar name by now. Their Duo- Capture EX is their take on mobile audio interfaces.

At first glance, this interface looks very sleek, but durable as well. The build quality is on point, and will definitely make this device last you a long time.

With two combined inputs, having both XLR and standard instrument option, you are free to simultaneously record two instruments, an instrument and vocals, or with two microphones. As this feature gives you a lot more freedom, we’re not sure why this isn’t a standard when it comes to audio interfaces.

Two phantom- powered VS preamps are a great addition, especially if you use condenser microphones in your setup. The front, though relatively minimalistic, gives you a headphone output as well as sensitivity and output controls.

Besides standard stereo output, the Duo- Capture offers both MIDI input and output option as well.

For less than $200, the Roland Duo- Capture EX is a good investment, with musicians who use MIDI devices besides mics and instruments on mind.

Learn more about Roland Duo Capture EX

 

Apogee Duet

 

That’s my personal favorite!

Marketed as the first professional stereo audio interface for iPads, the Apogee Duet takes a slightly different approach than the other models we’ve mentioned so far.

While the device itself may boast a smaller form factor, it can certainly take up numerous different input sources.

The whole idea is to have a single input to which you can connect a cable that offers multiple connectors. It supports standard instrument cable jacks as well as XLR for connecting microphones.

The input/ output count goes up to four, with 2 combined XLR/ instrument inputs, and 2 standard speaker outputs.

The interface on the device is made up of an OLED screen which delivers visual feedback of the levels of the instruments you’re recording. All of the controls are combined in a single multi- function knob on the top, so in order to adjust different parameters, you simply tap a button to cycle through them and turn the knob to set the level.

If you don’t mind the adapter cable setup and the around $600 price tag, definitely consider the Apogee Duet.

Learn more about Apogee Duet

 

Tascam iXZ

 

Switching things up from a relatively expensive option to a very budget- friendly one, the Tascam iXZ is an awesome alternative for connecting your instruments to your iPad, and for less than $50.

When designing the iXZ, Tascam wanted to save as much space as possible. The result was the interface being very slim, with only the input fraction of the device having a slight bulge.

Other than that, the iXZ does feel kind of cheap. But hey, it doesn’t have to look good in order to perform good, right?

A simple switch allows you to toggle between the instrument and XLR input, and a similar switch turns the phantom power on and off. The volume wheel is the same kind you would find on the old cd and cassette tape players.

Performance- wise, it was surprisingly good. The outside looks definitely don’t reflect the audio quality.

So, if you’re looking for a pocket- sized audio interface with a low price and slightly above average performance, the iXZ by Tascam is the way to go.

Learn more about Tascam iXZ

Alesis iO Dock II

 

 

Don’t just buy an audio interface to connect your iPad to it. Make your iPad a mini mobile studio with the iO Dock II by Alesis!

The rather unique design which makes the iO Dock II essentially a sleeve over your iPad not only makes your desk more organized but also keeps everything in your reach at all times.

Both the stereo speaker outputs and the 2 combined XLR/ instrument inputs are placed on the upper side of the device. Guitar/ mic line toggles are featured as well as a phantom power switch.

You can even use a footswitch with this interface, gaining even more control.

The sides utilize output level controls, as well as MIDI in and out. Cable management and general I/O design are done in a very ergonomic way.

With a price ranging from $250 to $300, the iO Dock II by Alesis features a great value for the money.

Learn more about Alesis iO Dock II

See also: Alesis iO Mix – 4 channel mixer for iPad

As there are fairly different options you could go for, now it’s up to you to see which one of the mentioned audio interfaces works best for your needs.

We hope that you found this overview of the best iOS audio interfaces helpful. Thank you very much for reading!

The 8 Best Waves Plugins for Mixing and Producing in 2020

Waves plugins have been an industry standard for a great many years.

The vast majority, if not all, iconic producers use at least a few of the waves plugins in their mixes and they have become industry standard for pop music production.

If you listen to any even slightly commercial music, chances are waves plugins and effects were used to mix and master the track.

So in light of their ongoing sales, we’ve decided to assemble what we believe to be the best waves plugins currently available.

If you’re busy, the table below summarizes our findings:

Name Type / Effect Cost Our Rating
W6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ Dynamic EQ Currently on Sale- 69.99$ 4.5/5CHECK OFFER
Center Stereo Enhancer Currently on Sale- 49.99$ 4.3/5CHECK OFFER
SSL E-Channel Channel Strip Processor 29.99$ 4.5/5CHECK OFFER
Waves Kramer Master Tape Tape 29.99$ 4.1/5CHECK OFFER
Brauer Motion Circular Auto-Pannel 69.99$ 4.25/5CHECK OFFER
CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter Compressor / Limiter 69.99$ 4.7/5CHECK OFFER
Waves Abbey Road Collection Plugins Bundle Currently on Sale- 269.99$ 4.5/5CHECK OFFER
Waves Abbey Road Collection Plugins Bundle Currently on Sale- 269.99$ 4.9/5CHECK OFFER
Scheps Omni Channel Channel Strip Currently on Sale- 49.99$ 4.8/5CHECK OFFER

Note: The prices described above are as of date of publish and can change.

It’s also worth noting that waves just released their new FLEX program, which allows you to rent-to-own your favorite waves plugins.

This means that instead of paying the full fee upfront, you can choose to pay monthly until you fully own it.

The programs start at 9.99$/month and can be cancelled at any time, so if the price of some of these plugins is prohibitive, definitively check out flex:

It’s a subjective list to be sure, so I invite you to share your best Waves plugins as well in the comments section. Now, in no particular order, here they are:

Waves F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ Review- Intuitive EQ for all levels

One of the most recent releases from Waves is the F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ. The first thing I noticed about it was the immaculate interface with various parameter knobs along the bottom. But it goes far beyond just being eye candy, this is a truly flexible and high quality dynamic EQ.

Each of its 6 bands can be either a hi/low shelf or bell and have independent controls for frequency band, Q, gain, range, threshold, attack and release.

The range control is unique because it compresses or expands depending on the position of the knob. Turning the knob left will compress the signal, while turning it to the right will expand the signal.

The F6 can be used in either mono, stereo or mid-side mode as well so you could throw it on a bus or even on your master chain.

Personally I wish it had a frequency spectrum, but I guess you can’t have everything. Maybe we’ll see it in a future update perhaps?

At any rate, it’s still a fantastic tool to have at your disposal.

Waves Center Review- A simple solution for a complicated issue

I’ve been using Center on every mix since I bought it. It allows you to enhance the stereo width of your mix by blending the hi-end/low-end levels of your signal between the sides and the center.

You can also blend the transients to the sides or center of your mix to add punch.

Center is a one trick pony, but it’s the best plugin I’ve found for easily adding focus and punch to busses and overall mixes. It’s extremely easy to use and once you start using it, it’ll become an indispensable tool in your arsenal.

Waves SSL E-Channel– A classic SSL Logic 4000 emulator

The iconic SSL E-Channel has been around for as long as I can remember and probably needs no introduction.

A couple of weeks ago I was one of the lucky folks that caught this baby being sold separate from the bundle of plugins it’s normally included in and it was a great find let me tell you.

Based on the Solid State Logic 4000-Series analogue consoles, the SSL E-Channel features the same all-discrete design and Class A, VCA chip as its hardware counterpart.

Additionally it has a 4-band parametric equalization section, Hi Pass/Low Pass Filters and a dynamics section with a compressor/limiter as well as an expander/gate.

The equalization section is based on the Black Knob equalizer developed with celebrated producer, George Martin in 1983. As on the original hardware, the dynamics section can be placed pre or post EQ via the (CH. OUT.) button.

Automatic gain make-up, calculated from the Ratio and Threshold settings, is applied to maintain a steady output level.

Upon trying it out on a drum bus, I noticed a warm analog sound and it gave my drums a noticeable punch which I’ve read the SSL E-Channel is famous for.

The generous number of presets offer a great starting point with contributions from Grammy Award Winning audio engineers and mixing gurus such as Dave Pensado and Chris Lord-Alge.

Here’s a great video from Graham Cochrane showing how to turn your computer into a virtual SSL console by instantiating the E-Channel on every track of your mix:

CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter– The rockers compressor

Another household name for any experienced producer.

The CLA-2A is the compressor of choice for many top notch producers and for good reason.

Works great for bass, guitars, and vocals, though it’s an extremely versatile compressor / limiter. It has a slower release than some of its competitors which gives it its signature sound.

Comes with Chris Lord-Alge’s (Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, etc) presets. We’d recommend having a look at his Signature Series, which contains 6 great plugins.

Brauer Motion– Auto-panner for the masses

Another recent release from Waves, Brauer Motion is an innovative circular auto-panner that moves an audio signal within the two- or three-dimensional space between the listener and the loudspeaker.

It was created in close cooperation with Grammy Award winning mix engineer, Michael Brauer and combines his signature panning methods with Waves’ plugin engineering expertise.

The whole idea behind this plugin is for the end user to be creative with movement on instruments and vocals in your mixes and there are a generous amount of parameters to achieve this.

The GUI alone makes me want to tweak and see what kind of unusual movement I can get from my synths.

I haven’t gotten a chance to play around with this one yet, but I can tell there are a bunch of creative uses for Brauer Motion.

Here’s a demonstration from Michael Brauer showcasing how this great plugin works along with a few creative tips:

Kramer Master Tape– Vintage tape machine emulator

Kramer Master Tape is an emulation of a rare ¼” reel-to-reel vintage tape machine. I haven’t seen any mention of which tape machine it models, but this plugin is surprisingly flexible and can be used for a variety of tasks.

It has adjustable parameters for wow & flutter, tape speed, bias, flux and noise. You would normally add a plugin like this when you need to eliminate some of the harshness that digital signals generate, making the mix sound cleaner.

While Kramer Master Tape delay excels at that, it also can be used for delay throws, slapback delay and noise saturation.

A good alternative to the Kramer Master Tape is the h delay, which is a great hybrid solution that works great on those old school sounding tracks. Check out the h delay user guide here.

The preamp section on the bottom left of the interface has adjustable knobs for input (RECORD LEVEL) and output (PLAYBACK LEVEL).

These knobs can be linked so that turning one knob will affect the other, so you can really dial in how much signal you want coming in while taming the output level.

Try using this on virtually any channel and go through the presets. Listen to what it does to the signal and tweak to your liking. I’m pretty sure you’ll be pleased with the results.

This is one of the best plugins to achieve a clean mix, and is surprisingly easy to use.

Abbey Road Plugin Collection– The iconic beatles bundle

Lastly, if you’re undecided and looking for a complete solution of plugins, the abbey road studios plugin collection might be what you’re looking for.

It contains emulations of the studios’ REDD and TG12345 consoles, the RS56 Passive EQ, J37 Tape, Reel ADT, the King’s Microphones, and Abbey Road’s echo chambers and reverb plates.

One of the highlight of this pack is the signature signal chain, available with just a few clicks.

As the name suggests, this is a great set of plugins to emulate the classic beatles sound, recorded in Abbey Road.

It’s a bit pricier, but still a great deal when compared to the cost of buying the individual plugins.

There’s also currently a massive sale going on (over 70% off) so definitely worth checking, in our opinion.

Scheps Omni Channel

Legendary engineer Andrew Scheps (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Adele, Jay Z, Metallica) partnered with Waves to produce a series of plugins, of which the channel strip is probably our favorite.

If you can afford only one plugin, we’d suggest going for this one, as it delivers most of the important elements in the mix- EQ, compression, and gating.

It is comprised of 6 modules:

  1. Pre module- 3 kinds of analog saturation.
  2. Compression module – Choose from 3 compressors: fast, slow and smooth. Plus A Wet/Dry control.
  3. EQ module:  4-band equalizer.
  4. DS2 module.
  5. Gate module: Threshold, attack and release. Plus maximum noise reduction.
  6. Insert slot: Add any extra Waves plugin, including another instance of the Scheps Omni Channel.

Our tip: Use the saturation on the pre-channel to add energy to vocals and leads without adding too much noise to the sound.

Final Thoughts

The above listed plugins are a great starting point to make the most out of the waves eco system for mixing and mastering your tracks.

If you’re interested in trying out waves, head out to their website and start a free trial.

The list is in no way complete and could have also easily included their vocal rider, the j37 tape delay, and their g-master plugin, but we decided to keep this post short and sweet.

Got any more recommendations? Feel free to leave a comment, we’d love to hear them!

Best Guitar Pedals For Synths and Keyboards

It is no secret that guitar effects pedals have completely changed the way we see music today. The impact this instrument made on music is obvious.

However, these effects pedals are not only limited to guitars.

On the contrary, they can be used with a variety of different instruments, including synths and keyboards. As long as your instrument uses a 1/4 inch TRS cable, chances are that an effects pedal will work just fine. 

The reasons to use these pedals with synths or even keyboards are numerous.

Analog synths don’t come packed with a wide array of effects like their modern counterparts do.

If live performance is important, you will have to add all of your effects there on the spot.

With that in mind, we wanted to find out what are the best guitar pedals for synths and keyboards you can get right now. As you are about to see, options are plentiful.

For a summarized version, check out the table below:

Product Name
Effects
Our Rating

Boss RE-20 Space Echo.
Echo, Reverb, Delay. 4.6/5
CHECK OFFER

MXR M101 Phase 90
Phaser 4.6/5
CHECK OFFER

Electro-Harmonix POG2
Octave Pedal 4.7/5
CHECK OFFER

Electro-Harmonix Lester G
Rotary Speaker Emulator 4.5/5
CHECK OFFER

Eventide Space
Reverb 4.9/5 CHECK OFFER

Elektron Analog Drive
Filter / Saturator 4.7/5 CHECK OFFER

API TranZformer GT Guitar Pedal
Reverb 4.5/5 CHECK OFFER

 

Boss RE-20 Space Echo Pedal

 

One of the first effects pedals we have to mention is the Boss RE-20 Space Echo.

To those who don’t know the history of this model, it probably looks just like another digital box.

However, it is so much more than that.

Roland RE-201 Space Echo used to be, and for the most part still is, the pinnacle of analog echo effect.

It offered the perfect tape echo, very subtle details that only a masterpiece analog unit could and everyone loved it. 

However, getting one of these is just borderline impossible these days due to its cost and scarcity.

Enter the Boss RE-20 Space Echo.

Roland and Boss worked together to revamp the original RE-201 in all of its glory. Even though it is fully digital, the quality of tone is literally identical to the model it was inspired by.

As impressive as it is though, the Boss RE-20 Space Echo will forever remain a studio queen. The device’s clunky nature makes it extremely hard to use in a live setting.

With that said, if you are looking for the best of the best, Boss RE-20 Space Echo is the way to go. 

For a quick demo of this pedal, check out the video below:

MXR M101 Phase 90

Here’s a complete change of pace.

From a high dollar legend to an affordable orange stompbox.

MXR’s Phase 90 used to be one of the best, if not the best phaser pedal available at the time.

The instrument’s simple analog circuitry made it a reliable piece of gear that many guitar players use to this day. As such, it wasn’t long before Phase 90 found its application with keyboards and synths. 

It essentially brought that vintage, organic sounding phase effect to a largely digitized world of keyboards.

Easy to use and very competitively priced, MXR M101 Phase 90 is one of those effects pedals that you can get without feeling the impact on your bank account.

With that said, it is also the type of pedal that can completely change the dynamic of your tone, whether you are using a keyboard or a synth. 

Electro-Harmonix POG2

Octave pedals are a must-have piece of gear.

They have been allowing guitar players to enrich various sections of their music with girth and range.

One of the best pedals of this type that works with keyboards and synths is the Electro-Harmonix POG2. One quick look at the control panel and you immediately know what you are dealing with here. It’s no ordinary octave pedal, that’s for sure. 

This one comes with an FX section as well.

In terms of pure performance, you are looking at the range of two octaves above and below the nominal value.

Effects available come in form of an attack control, a two-pole resonant LP filter and an enhanced detune. Pushing the functionality even further, Electro-Harmonix designed this pedal in a way that allows you to save presets for later use.

Have a look at the POG2 in action:

POG2 is among the most rugged and natural sounding octave pedals out there, definitely the one you’d want to use with a keyboard. 

Electro-Harmonix Lester G

Up next, we have another great creation from Electro-Harmonix. This time around we are looking at their legendary Lester G.

Why is it legendary?

Because this is one of the best rotary speaker emulators on the market right now. Leslie rotary speakers are a pretty niche piece of gear that was used extensively only a few decades ago.

These days it is considered an exotic. Since using the original version of this device meant that you had to get a clunky, cabinet sized speaker itself, another solution had to be devised. Electro-Harmonix is one of the few companies to even attempt to recreate this effect in a digital pedal. 

Unlike most of its competition, Lester G brings you the absolute control over the effect it offers.

You can dial in everything from acceleration to sustain. Even though it was designed to be used in a guitar signal chain, keyboard and synth applications are too good to be ignored. Especially considering that it comes with both stereo and mono I/O options

Eventide Space

This pedal has any reverb model you may need for guitar, keyboard, synth or even drums and percussion.

I’ve seen many Eurorack-based setups that use this pedal for adding reverb.

And it can go from classic algorithmic room and halls to plates and weird granular processing.

Blackhole mode is my favorite mode for synths – beautiful for pads. And Eventide even released Blackhole algorithm as a stand alone VST plugin. 

Interested in seeing it in action? Click play:

Elektron Analog Drive

Elektron is well-known for any electronic musician or keyboard player for their synths (A4 and Analog Keys), drum machines and one of the best samplers (Octatrack). But they also have one pedal called Analog Drive.

It was remade from the Analog Heat desktop device (filter/saturator), and it has 8 different analog saturation circuits. From subtle saturation to crazy distortion – this pedal is a must-have for keyboard/synth players. 

API TranZformer GT Guitar Pedal

Most of us don’t have ability to record using large consoles primarily because of their costs of tens of thousands of dollars.

But if you are looking for a signature sound of API consoles – Tranzformer GT is the way to go.

It has fully discrete signature API circuit design, compressor, 3-band EQ and input gain with up to 30db to overdrive the circuit. 

Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive

Last but not least, let’s talk dirt. Overdrives are not the type of effect that you often see used with synths or keyboard.

However, a good vintage OD pedal can really add some grit to your tone.

Fulltone OCD comes to mind as the perfect candidate. T

his thing was designed to bring the tube sound in a compact package, and boy does it deliver. It also meets one of the more important requirements for overdrive pedals used with a synth, and that is tone control.

OCD allows you to be as subtle or as aggressive as you need to, without completely drowning your signal. It infuses the tone with sweet sounding dirt while retaining definition.

Final Thoughts

Pedals we’ve shown you above are by far some of the best guitar pedals for synth and keyboard use.

Some are more affordable than others, but most of these have been tried and tested many times in this particular application.

Sometimes, in music production, even the cheapest pieces of gear can open up a universe of sound and completely redefine your music, so we urge to keep exploring and keep re-inventing your sound.

If you are just starting to consider effects pedals as a possible tool, we strongly suggest that you start with these pedals.

Softube Tsar-1 – modern classic reverb review

In the world of reverb plugin emulations of classic hardware, it’s always refreshing to find one with superb sound quality that separates itself from the fray.

Softube’s TSAR-1 is a modern take on classic algorithmic reverbs capable of producing everything from vintage plates to Lexicon 224-type halls.

Its True Stereo Algorithm is what sets the TSAR-1 apart enabling it to be useful in mixing and creative situations.

True Stereo Algorithm and Presets

The architecture of the TSAR-1’s True Stereo Algorithm is such that it can process a stereo input as two discrete channels.

This feature enables you to control early reflections and the main reverb tail separately.

Softube describes the TSAR-1 as “alive and vibrant, gentle and dreamy and natural and believable”.

This is because it’s able to add a distinct character to various audio sources. Using the DENSITY slider in the center of the interface allows you to mimic the sound of a variety of vintage reverbs such as EMT plates and halls, Sony Digital Snare and of course the Lexicon 224 among others.

To my ears, the presets sound great on their own and you might find yourself using them without a lot of tweaking, if any at all. They are divided into two sections, modern and vintage. The modern presets are application specific while the vintage presets mimic the sound of vintage reverb units. Names like (Scoring Stage, Vocal Whisper, 224 Room, EMT Plate, etc.) offer you a fantastic starting point from which to dial in your desired sound.

The TSAR-1 isn’t modelled after any particular reverb.

It merely offers you the ability to mimic a variety of classic units.

This distinction is important in the event that you are expecting this to be an emulation because it most certainly is not.

Its powerful modern reverb algorithm heavily contributes to its signature sound and overall sophisticated quality.

It truly surrounds itself around the source material creating the illusion of actually being in that particular stereo space.

The Interface

Softube designed the TSAR-1 with ease of use in mind. Included with the package is the TSAR-1R plugin (more on this later) which has an even smaller set of intuitive controls.

The TSAR-1 has only five sliders (Pre-delay, Time, Density, Tone and High Cut), and 3 knobs (Output Volume, Reverb/Early Reflections and Reverb Mix). There are also a couple switched parameters for Diffusion and Modulation.

The display in the center of the interface shows the current settings for the various parameters. Clicking on any of them will toggle from the current setting to the most recent setting.

Parameters in the display illuminate briefly when either selecting a new preset, moving a slider or knob, or clicking on one of them. This is helpful because you are able to see at a glance, which parameter you are affecting.

You have up to 1 second of Pre-delay and a reverb time range of 150ms – 15 seconds.

By default, each preset is loaded with the Reverb Mix knob set to 100%. Take any sound, instantiate an instance of TSAR-1 and set the Time slider to about 10 seconds, play with the Density and Tone sliders, then bounce that to audio and get an instant unique ambient sample.

The High Cut slider limits the frequencies of both the early reflections and the reverb tail, although it sounds to me as if it affects the reverb tail a bit more. Also worth noting is that although both the TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R plugins support automation, parts of the reverb get muted when parameters change in order to limit noise artifacts. Softube suggests in their pdf manual:

Do not use automation to modulate or gradually change parameters.

A constantly moving parameter can lead to the reverb being muted.” 

Check out the plugin in use:

Tsar-1R

As mentioned earlier, TSAR-1 comes bundled with the TSAR-1R which is has an even more streamlined interface.

It uses the same algorithm as its big brother, but has only 3 reverb parameters and focuses mainly on natural reverberation types.

Pre-delay is limited to 200ms and the Time parameter adjusts an internal pre-delay, the early reflections, diffusion, density and delay time simultaneously.

Tsar-1 Rack Extension for Reason

There’s special version ported to the Rack Extension format. For my eyes it looks much better a rack-mounted device and it is has same great sound and presets and ability to modulate some of its parameters with CV-inputs.

Get Softube Tsar-1 Rack Extension

Conclusion

This is a very lush sounding and flexible reverb. I would have liked to have seen a low cut filter as it’s often necessary to cut the low frequencies of reverb to some degree. It would also be nice to be able to automate parameters without worrying if the processed sound if going to be muted. But all in all, both the TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R are sophisticated units holding true to the standard of high quality products Softube is known for.

Get Softube Tsar-1 for the best price:

BEST DEAL: Get Softube Volume 3 Bunle (Tsar-1 included with 13 other Softube plugins)

Top 5 Free Reverb Plugins (VST/AU)

Reverb is one of the most widely used effects by audio engineers to give audio signals a sense of space in a mix. Over the years, the quality of free reverb plugins has greatly improved, often rivaling paid plugins.

Though I use many of the paid plugins (including some very expensive like Altiverb and UAD Reverbs) – this nice free  reverb plugins can still find its place in any production. Some of these are Windows compatible only, while few are also available for Mac OS X.

NI Form 1.1 Update Review

The Native Instruments FORM 1.1 update adds some truly remarkable new features to an already feature rich virtual synthesizer. Among these enhancements are the addition of more than 200 presets bringing the total number of presets to over 400.

Getting Around with NI Form

FORM is extremely easy to navigate because of its streamlined UI. The display that appears when you first load it gives you immediate access to all areas of the interface. The buttons along the top of FORM: SAMPLE, SOUND and EFFECTS respectively, are available on every page.

It’s only when the “SAMPLE SELECT” button is active that the other pages are not available as this page is dedicated to previewing and loading your own sample.  Any samples longer than 30 seconds can’t be loaded.

If you own Maschine Studio, Kontakt, MKII or any Komplete Kontrol hardware, navigation is much easier and a lot more enjoyable in my opinion as there is no need to mouse around.

Shaping Your Sound with NI Form

Although FORM 1.1 now comes with 400+ presets that are all editable and can be saved, I found it more interesting to load in my own samples and see what I could come up with. Whatever sample you drag and drop onto the interface becomes your main oscillator and from there turning any parameter will most often yield a pleasing result.

The SPEED parameter obviously changes the speed of the selected sample and can run free or be synced to the host tempo of your DAW.

The MOTION section gives you the option to select the direction in which the sample will be scanned, the sample range to be scanned and how the sound will be modulated using one of many curve presets. Using the curve editor gives you even more control over the sound as you are able to manipulate the curve you’ve chosen with much more detail and/or create your own curves.

The SOUND section on the top middle of the interface offers many modulation sources and destinations to further shape your sound. All parameters can be automated by any other parameter and any curve preset you choose. The ADDITIVE OSC is basically a sub oscillator to add warmth and weight to your sound and also doubles as an FM modulator.

Try raising the volume of the FM knob just to the right of the ADDITIVE OSC section and see what that does to the sound. Also in the middle of the interface is a helpful waveform display so you can actually see how your sound is being changed. The SHAPER didn’t have as dramatic of an effect on the sounds I was tweaking, but it’s basically a waveshaper. The MULTIPLY knob acts as an oscillator sync and really changes the tone of the sound. STEREO shifts the phase of the playheads to modify the width of the sound. All presets have multiple variations in the PERFORMANCE section, each of which can be activated via keyswitch. New in the FORM 1.1 update is the added feature to copy and paste variation parameters from one preset to the next. The new performance mixer allows you to balance the level of every variation.

The modifiers along the bottom of FORM 1.1 also add noticeable changes to the sound and are available on every page except when the SAMPLE SELECT button is activated.

To the top right of the interface, clicking the SINGLE button puts FORM 1.1 into multi-mode allowing for you to create more complex textures.

EFFECTS

My favorite feature of the EFFECTS page is the FREQUENCY SHAPING display. Using this you can really control the frequency range for your sound and have a visual representation of it as well. To the far right there is a dry/wet band filter so you can adjust how much the frequency is being affected. The REVERB section is unique in that it not only offers traditional small, large and space reverbs, but also 2 selections labelled cheap and unreal which I found to be quite interesting to play around with. Effects parameters can be copied and pasted between variations which is a new feature in NI FORM 1.1.

Conclusion

FORM 1.1 is a very inspirational and unique synth. It’s the shining star in the Komplete 11 bundle in my opinion. The sound possibilities are infinite and as deep as this synth is, it’s still very simple to craft your own new sounds or edit the existing presets. I’ve been using virtual synths for a long time and have never seen anything like it. I suggest you give this a really good look, download the demo. I’m almost sure you’ll be hooked.

PRICE:  $99 USD / 99 EUR / £89 GBP.

*This update is free for existing owners of FORM, Komplete 11 and Komplete 11 Ultimate. Download via Native Access.

Blamsoft eXpanse 2 Review

When first version of Expanse came out it was already one of the most advanced synthesizers available in Reason. Expanse synth is developed by Blamsoft – company that brought lots of Rack Extensions including two best-selling RE synths – Viking and Zero. Based on their great experience and understanding of Reason environment and workflows – Expanse 1 was more advanced then any other wavetable synth – combining wavetable, additive and subtractive synthesis in one powerful unit.

With Propellerhead’s introduction of Reason 9.2 and new Rack Extension SDK – Blamsoft updated Expanse to the version 2 and made it free update for existing users (though I’m sure most of them would be happy to pay a fee to get the ability to import their own waveforms).

Sample import was one of the most expected features for REs SDK. And apparently Propellerhead team was quietly working with Blamsoft to make Expanse 2 ready on the Reason 9.2 launch day.

Wavetables:

Expanse comes with nice selection of waveforms made by renowned sound designer eXode.
Even without importing your own waveforms you already have large collection to play with. Each osciallator has 4 modifiers – each can be setup as FM, Phase Distortion, Ring Modulation, Wrap, Decimate, Invert etc. BTW, Serum has only one modifier per OSC – and here we got 4 which makes sound shaping capabilities literally unlimited.
With the newest version (requires Reason 9.2) you can load up wavetables. Blamsoft says that all Serum wavetables are compatible with eXpanse. But also you can take wavetables from everywhere: free wavetables banks that you can find on the forums (if you search you can easilty find collection of Virus TI wavetables and other synths), wavetables packs from other synths – it is not just Serum but also Waves Codex, iOS-synth Animoog etc.
And of course you can just import any wav-file as a wavetable (just make sure it is pretty short), play with position modulation and modifiers – and you instantly get unique sound.

If you compare Expanse to Serum – Serum has better control on the waveforms (with its waveform editor) but it has 2 wavetable oscillators (+one noise OSC that can play files and sub-osc) and only one modifier control (warp, sync etc) while eXpanse has 4 wavetable oscillators and 4 modifiers per each osc.

Filters and Amps:
eXpanse has 2 filters that can run in serial or parallel mode and 2 independent AMPs!!! – that something that can make really interesting patches – from cool stereo effects to nice evolving sounds.

Modulation:

eXpanse is probably the most advanced synth in terms of the modulation: 5 envelopes with adjustable slopes, 3 LFOs, Random and Noise as Modulation sources, really nice Step Sequencer with two CCs that can modulate any parameter.

Modulation matrix with 6 modulation slots with 3 destinations per modulation, drag’n’drop modulation destination assignments, lots of CV ins etc.

Effects:
Effects section has pretty much everything you would expect from top-synth this days: Compressor, EQ, Distortion, Phaser, Delay, Reverb. We don’t stop here much because Reason is cool modular environment with great amount of various FX devices – you can easily add other REs for effects and combine it into single Combinator patch.

Overall:
If you’re already using Reason to make music – eXpanse is a must have Rack Extension. Just the ability to import your own samples as wavetables is worth buying it. It is well thought-out interface that looks very natural in the Reason rack (particularly with the dark-color scheme).

Rob Papen Predator 2 Review

First version of Predator was simple to understand but still advanced and deep synth from synthesis guru Rob Papen. Classical architecture of 3 oscillators and 2 filters and tons of great presets that are covering most of EDM genres made first Predator a goto synth for many producers of different level from beginners to gurus.

Predator 2 looks like same classic Predator but supercharged with lots of cool new sound possibilities which can take sound to the next level.

Let’s take a closer look into what’s new in Predator 2:

Predator 2 User Interface

Original UI of Predator was nice and clear and in general 2nd version took most of the ideas of original Predator UI with slight redesign. Though many people on forums were complaining about dark GUI – I found it easy to use and pretty easy to move from Predator 1 to 2.

For those who prefer playing with presets slightly tweaking its parameters there is Easy Page view – that shows only important parameters:

Predator 2 Oscillators:

Morph mode
Each of the three Oscillators can now have two waveforms and morph between them using various algorithms – which is probably the best new feature that opens huge amount of new sound design directions.
Also you can now use User waveforms – draw wave or partials phase to get your unique sound. As a starting point for user waveform you can load prebuilt waveform and modify it.

Second and third oscillators can be modulated with FM/Ring/PM and some other algorythms. So you can really combine lots of synthesis methods in one single patch: wavetable morphing, classic subtractive, FM.

Filters:

Comparing to Predator 1 there seems to be same filter models but what’s new is pre-filter per-voice distortion with three modes: edge, smooth and dirty, and drive knob.

Also AMP stage has its own distortion with wide range of algorithms.

Play mode

Strum: guitar-like effect of sequencing

Nice sounding Unison (in the play mode) with many different options including two types of Unisons with up to 8 voices and Octave spread mode.

EQ: Predator 2 comes with new graphical EQ.

Presets:
All Rob Papen synths are famous by its presets. Particularly Predator library had the best soundest on the market. Predator 2 adds some new presets and old Predator 1 library as well. But even without presets – the synth is pretty strait forward to program – with all the main controls well positioned on the main window.

Also as already mentioned somewhere – in future updates Predator 2 would bring NKS support so Maschine and Komplete Kontrol users could take full advantage of their controllers to natively integrate with Predator 2 and it’s presets library.

It is great to see legendary synth updated to version 2. And we can’t wait to see when next release of Predator 2 with NKS support and more presets that take advantage of powerful new features: morphing between waveforms, waveform modulations, user waveforms, new EQ and others.

Predator 2 is available at for $149/€149. Upgrade from Predator 1 is just $49/€49. Predator 2 is included in the eXplorer 4 bundle with all other RobPapen plugins.

Get Predator 2

UPDATE: Rob Papen just announced that coming update will introduce new light interface:

Download Predator 2

Kilohearts Toolbox – Ultimate Reason Rack Extension Effect Bundle

Kilohearts developers of one of my favorites and best sounding Rack Extension synths kHs ONE has released FX bundle that consists of 23!!! Rack Extension.

Reason is unique platform in its modularity and ability to modulate almost anything. But for the last 5-6 years Propellerhead was not updating built-in effects so most of the Reason stock effects look really outdated in 2016. kiloHearts brings nice alternative to stock effects and much more…

And new kiloHearts bundle is definitely brings Reason to the next-level in terms of effect plugins – starting from classic delay, reverb, distortion, filters to the creative trance gate, tape stop and other effects.

All those effects were taken from kiloHearts Multipass VST/AU plugin. But having all these effects in Reason environment gives way more flexibility. First – you can modulate effect parameters from CV outs of other devices (Pulsar LFO, Martix Pattern Sequencer, Synchronous and many-many others). Second – some effects have modulation outputs: Trance Gate – has gate and envelopes CV, Formant Filter’s X/Y CV outs – connect those to modulate your synths or other effects. Next – with free Mid/Side and Multiband splitters from other developers you can start building your own crazy effect chains – multiband distortion, delay, compression or even more creative multiband resonator and trance gate.

FREE Rack Extensions

Start with Kilohearts effects is really easy. Apart from 30-day free trial you can get 5 free rack extensions:

– Gain – nice tool for gain control in complex patches with great visual signal level monitoring
– Classic effects: Chorus, Delay
– And couple of effects that may be good alternative to MClass Reason devices: Limiter and Stereo Width where you can CV control all the parameters!!!

Unique Effects

Some of the effects are truly unique for Reason and can change your sound dramatically.
My favorite from the whole bundle is Resonator – it adds harmonic resonance and sounds really good. Connect Pitch CV – and resonance frequency follows notes you’re playing.

Another gem in the collection is Trance Gate that is gating your signal based on the pattern that you setup on a nice circled sequencer. The user interface is really well thought-out and really easy and intuitive to use. It sounds great on anything and shines on any static sounds – it could bring to life even simplest one-note pad.

Comb and Formant filters – those two are another amazing additions to the Reason rack. Similar to Resonator – Comb Filter has Pitch CV in so it can follow notes you’re playing – it is also nice to connect it to sequencer and play some random sequence.
Formant Filter is really easy to use with X/Y pads controlling how you transform you sound into vowels (as I mention before – you can use X/Y as a CV source).

Tape Stop – is another unique device which obviously does slowing/stopping and starting playing tape effect. And of course you can trigger it from any CV-gate source.

Toolbox Bundle

Each of the new devices mentioned is really worth its price of $19 per device. But they are really shine in combination with others. With all these effects you can take any simple synth (even SubTractor) and transform it into the ultimate up-to-date sound. All the parameters are CV controllable – it makes the bundle great experimental toolbox. But course you can just make subtle processing of your audio adding coloration and movement.

And it is great to see all those devices combined in a bundle for just $149. Less than $10 per device!

Get Kilohearts Toolbox from Propellerheads Shop

Watch official video:

Exit mobile version