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A|A|S Chromaphone

January 15, 2013

One of the great aspects of virtual instruments is that creative designers can take them beyond emulating the ordinary. Chromaphone isn’t the first modeling synthesizer to explore struck and plucked resonators, but its exploration runs deep.
Modeling synths create sounds on-the-fly with algorithms, not samples. Limitations like velocity or sample splits don’t exist, and sounds can be realistic or push boundaries. Also, as no samples load into memory, presets load instantly; Chromaphone’s overall operation is snappy as well. However, more voices requires more CPU power (and Chromaphone doesn’t distribute its power over multiple cores). Still, CPU drain is certainly not unreasonable, especially with 16 voices or less.

Meet the Family There are several banks of presets (programs), although you can always manage banks (rename, create, copy, or move within banks, etc.). The mallets, percussions, drum kits, chimes/bells, and plucked strings play to Chromaphone’s primary strengths. The kits aren’t conventional drum kits, but stretch a sound so that low sounds give a satisfying “kick,” while higher sounds are more like percussion—so you can play it like a kit.
The basses, keys, strings and pads, synths, and organs/pipes are not ROMpler sounds. The basses tend toward a warmer, more acoustic vibe; keys are mostly electric piano/clav-type sounds, while strings and pads are impressionistic. For synths, don’t think Minimoog, but synthetic sounds; the organs and pipes provide alternatives to conventional sampled versions. The soundscapes/textures and effects also highlight Chromaphone’s unique talents—some resemble sampled sounds, but you can push them into far more interesting territories. My only significant disappointment is that few controls respond to MIDI, and there are no MIDI learn options for external controllers.

Rolling Your Own The architecture is unconventional—combining a mallet and noise source creates a signal that excites dual resonators (each chosen from eight types). These can either run in parallel, or in a “combine” mode that places the resonators in series but with bi-directional interaction (e.g., similar to how a piano string interacts with a sounding board, but the sounding board also influences the string).
There are familiar parameters like amplitude decay and release, pitch envelope, key follow, LFO, and the like (as well as various effects), but you’ll also find material, tone, density, stiffness, partial, noise, color, and so on. I’d like to say that I understand all these parameters and have mastered the art of creating predictable patches . . . but I haven’t! I adjust some parameters, stand back, and hear what happens. Changing just one parameter on the guitar pad gave impressionistic, evocative cellos—do I know why? No, but I am smart enough that the first thing I learned was how to save presets. And a wonderful History function takes you back through the edits you’ve made to a program, so if you go too far, you can reel yourself back in.

Cool, or What? Download the trial version—you’ll find a novel, clever instrument that makes sounds your other virtual instruments don’t make. Chromaphone isn’t a “bread-and-butter” synth, so it’s not for everyone; but if you find yourself booting up the occasional virtual instrument, yawning, and saying “been there, done that”—start downloading.
STRENGTHS:  Creative design. Fresh, organic, warm sounds. Excels for percussion. VST/AU/RTAS/standalone versions. Small footprint. Cool playground for synth addicts.

LIMITATIONS:  Limited response to MIDI controllers. Doesn’t exploit multiple cores when pushed to maximum polyphony.

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