FIG. 1: Tassman Instruments are constructed in the Builder screen, which provides access to the included Modules (left). When you click to select any Module, text describing its usage appears at the top of the screen.
Since the initial release of its Tassman soft synth, Applied Acoustics has been the leader in the field of physical modeling on the desktop. Not content to rest on its laurels, the company has released Tassman version 4, which adds a vast number of new presets, a default Output section, and the ability to use either audio from disk or real-time input as an exciter in patches. Combined with the new and optimized instrument-building Modules and a number of performance tweaks, Tassman 4 retains its position as the top modeling program around.
EM reviewed versions 1.2 and 3.02 of Tassman (you can find the reviews online at www.emusician.com), so I'll focus on the new features in version 4 for this review.
From the Top
Physical modeling is a demanding process for any CPU, and Applied Acoustics has put forth its many years of research knowledge to handle the task. The result is a soft synth that is efficient in its standalone and plug-in (VST, DirectX, AU, and RTAS) configurations.
Creating patches (which Tassman calls Instruments) begins in the Builder screen. The Builder screen is a dedicated work area in which you can place and connect modules from Tassman's extensive browser library (see Fig. 1). After you've created patches, you can jump to the Player work area to audition or play your Instruments. Tassman 4 offers the same ten categories of design elements (Effects, Envelopes, Filters, Generators, and so on) as in version 3. There are only a few new modules, including the Tube Reverb Module (found under Effects) and the Audio In and Stereo Audio In. New in version 4 is the ability to have the browser display only those folders that you want. You can't, however, have a separate view enabled for the Builder and Player work areas — it would make sense, for example, to see only modules in the Builder screen and only Instruments in the Player area.
Also new in this release is the Performance file format, a complete instrument design that includes a MIDI map, presets, and effects. Earlier versions of Tassman used different file types for all the categories of components, and although Tassman 3 made a leap forward in integration, Tassman 4 files can now include everything but samples in a single bundle.
Many soft synths (and some audio editors) allow you to input a live audio signal as a sound source for modification by the host's signal-processing modules. That feature was noticeably absent from earlier Tassman versions. Now you can use audio input from an external source, an audio track in your DAW, or a file on a hard drive in an Instrument.
Tassman is not simply keeping up with the others in this regard, however, as the types of processing you can do to the audio signal are unique. You can pass your voice through the body of a cello or through a large metal pipe or tweak a drum loop by “scraping” it along a wooden marimba bar. You can easily build those and other types of designs by using the audio-file Player Module (from the Generators category) and then selecting the file you want to process while working in the Player interface. If you use the Audio In Module in your Instrument, you could process your voice in real time the same way. When using Tassman as a plug-in, simply place it on an audio track as an effect, and you're set. Check out Web Clips 1 and 2 at the EM Web site for some examples of that technique.
FIG. 2: Tassman 4 now offers a map to associate any preset with a Program Change message.
All Tassman patches now include an Output section by default. That component provides Sync, Delay, Output (volume), Reverb (which has a small on/off switch), and Recorder modules. In previous versions, those modules had to be added to each Instrument. The Output section appears at the top of every Instrument by default, which is a huge time-saver. It comes with ten preset effects settings, and it's easy to create and save your own. The Recorder Module offers 8- and 16-bit settings, a mono or stereo toggle (Tassman supports the WAV format on the PC and AIFF and AIFC on the Mac), and a few triggering options, but that's about it. Still, you no longer need to bother including a Recorder Module in your designs, which is something that many users did on a regular basis in previous versions.
Program changes are now supported, which is an addition that will be especially appreciated by those using Tassman as a plug-in (see Fig. 2). A map associating the 100 presets in the Super Models category is included, and you can change associations by dragging a preset from the Browser directly into the map. You can, however, have only one map at any time.
Presenting the Presets
The new presets in Tassman 4 are alone worth the upgrade price. There are now nearly 50 unique synth designs that employ more than 1,000 presets. Those resources represent a fantastic collection of sounds and span a vast range of sonic possibilities (see Web Clip 3). I could spend the rest of the review discussing my favorites, but I'll keep it to a bare minimum.
Expanding the Instruments folder in the browser reveals the new Instruments, which are grouped into categories such as Acoustic, Analog, Drums, Hybrid, and FM. In the Kalimba folder under the Acoustic category, you'll find Breeze, which combines a Beam, Plate, and String Module with controls for Thumb stiffness and strength and Soundboard amplitude and decay. Turning off all chorus, reverb, and delay and then adjusting the Thumb's stiffness reveals a range of sounds from sharp and metallic to something resembling a struck clay pot. Moon Wolf, in the FM category, kicks off with a sharp attack and a complex sustain that includes a howling sound worthy of a Halloween night. The patch has a step sequencer adjusting filter cut-off, three oscillators, several LFOs, and a chorus and delay.
In the Super Models category, Airy sounds like a young flute player trying to get his or her chops in order. If you load Bubbling Dream and change the Sync Tempo while a note is sounding, you'll get some excellent light-saber sound effects. The Motion group has some winners, including the wooden-sounding Knocked Up, which combines a slew of FM oscillators, each with its own set of envelopes, panner, and mod control.
Low Resonator, in the Bowed category, has a beautiful tone that sits somewhere between a metal and wooden cello body (Fholes, Top Plate, and Back Plate are individually adjustable). In My Mind 1, with a bowed plate at its core, has a subtle inharmonic quality that thins out as you sustain a note.
If you're looking for more traditional patches, have no fear — there are a huge number of bass models and leads. A variety of electric pianos, reminiscent of the patches in Applied Acoustics' Lounge Lizard, are also on hand.
Special recognition goes to sound designer Harm Visser, who supplied some outstanding acoustic-instrument models to the mix. Visser's HV Collection, a small subset of his complete offerings, is available for free download from the Applied Acoustics Web site. The set includes Tibetan Bells II, an Instrument that uses two Plate Modules to create deep and rich tones; and a tenor-sax patch that produces a variety of wind timbres. Adjusting the Mod Wheel on the sax's ModW preset changes the pressure of the air being forced into the bore (see Web Clip 4). More Visser patches are available from the designer's Web site at www.hvsynthdesign.com.
My only complaints about Tassman 4 are that subpatches are not well documented, and there's no guide to the example instruments (some modular soft synths offer that feature). It would also be great if there were a search feature in the browser — the single-column listing of all folders and their contents can quickly get unwieldy. And the sequencers, although much improved in version 3, are still not as easy to use as they could be. I do admit, however, that their nesting possibilities give them a vast range of potential for complex note triggering.
What keeps me coming back to Tassman time and time again is the sound — the crisp metallic bells, the breathy, airy flutes, and the ethereal bowed beams and plates. With Tassman, you also have the ability to create any imaginable (or unimaginable) sonic hybrid. There's no soft synth on the market today that has as many unique sonic building blocks as Tassman, and the range of possibilities it offers is awesome.
Tassman is a growing force in the desktop-music world — the size of its user base can be measured by the number and diversity of user-contributed patches found at the company's Web site. If you're looking for a tool to create new sounds or you simply want to play some of the most interesting and unusual physically modeled instruments, give Tassman 4 a try. But just remember to come up for air when you plunge into the depths of the preset patches!
EM associate editor Dennis Miller is hooked on virtual instruments and plans to throw out all the cork grease and spit rags in his closet.
upgrade from Tassman 3 $99
OVERALL RATING (1 TO 5): 4.5
PROS: Outstanding preset Instrument library. Support for external audio as exciter. New Output section is a huge time-saver.
CONS: Subpatches and included Instruments poorly documented. Browser needs a search feature.
Applied Acoustics Systems/Ilio (distributor)