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EMAGIC ES1 (MAC/WIN)

November 1, 2000
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The Logic Audio environment gets its first plug-in synthesizer.

Emagic recently expanded the role of plug-ins in the Logic Audio environment to include virtual instruments. ES1, which models a subtractive analog synthesizer, is the company's first plug-in to use the new Audio Instruments object category. This allows ES1 to be accessed in the same way as other Logic Audio plug-ins.

ES1 requires Logic Audio Platinum, Silver, or Gold, or MicroLogicAV 4.1. If you're using 4.0, it automatically updates to 4.1 when you install the plug-in. The Mac and Windows versions of ES1 come on the same CD-ROM and easily install into your Logic Audio folder. I used the Mac version for this review.

FROM THE TOPES1 doesn't take up much room on your hard drive. However, each individual synth you create requires about 2.5 MB of RAM. Although a minimum of 64 MB of RAM is recommended, you should add as much RAM as your computer will hold.

You can use up to 16 ES1s at a time, with each given a maximum of 16 voices. The more voices you allocate to a synth - and the more synths you use - the more you will tax your CPU.

You access the synth in the Environment audio layer, where a plug-in insert box is provided for ES1, as well as in the Track mixer. However, when you open a synth, the audio instrument's name isn't displayed in the window bar. Instead, the instrument number appears in a small window toward the top of the plug-in interface.

ES1 gives you a choice between a highly stylized graphic editor (see Fig. 1) and a simplified control screen (see Fig. 2). However, five important parameters appear only on the control screen: Master Tuning, Analog (which simulates the pitch drift of an analog VCO), Voices, Bend Range, and Output Level. Filter choices can be made only in the graphic editor, where you can select a 12 dB, 18 dB, 24 dB Classic (Moog-style emulation), or 24 dB Fat (Oberheim-like) lowpass filter, as well as adjust the cutoff and resonance.

The filter does an admirable job of emulating an analog filter. However, like many virtual synths, it sounds a tad too clean. With ES1, you can dirty it up with distortion, overdrive, bit reduction, and other plug-ins. ES1's Drive function models the saturation characteristics of an overdriven filter, but it's a subtle effect even at the highest setting.

The Key feature lets you adjust the keyboard-dependent behavior of the filter envelope; at the lowest setting, the filter cutoff remains constant throughout the keyboard's range. When you increase the Key value, the filter progressively opens as you play up the keyboard.

OSCILLATE METAL SONATASES1 includes an oscillator, suboscillator, and LFO, each with a useful selection of waveforms. The oscillator has sawtooth, triangle, and square waves, and a variable pulse width. The suboscillator has a variety of square and pulse waves, as well as white noise. An octave switch to the oscillators' left lets you globally raise or lower their pitch in terms of organ-pipe lengths (2 to 32 feet). The Mix function sets the relative levels between the main and suboscillators.

LFO waveforms include triangle, ramp up, ramp down, square, sample and hold, and a lagged random wave. You specify the LFO's amount of synchronization with the control dial. Additionally, the LFO and the suboscillator have an External setting, so you can employ an audio track as a modulation source. This setting proves especially useful for processing drum loops and drones. Additionally, you can route external audio sources through ES1's synth engine and filter.

The envelope generator has three modes: ADSR, AGateR, and GateR. AGateR bypasses the Decay and Sustain, so the level remains constant between the peak and the release. GateR functions similarly, but it sets the attack at 0. The ADSR via Velocity function sets the level of the envelope sent to the filter cutoff according to how hard you strike a key. The dual "slide rule" arrows adjust the positive and negative input values, letting you constrain the range and the intensity of velocity modulation.

The Router is a simple modulation matrix. On the left, the LFO can be sent to one of six destinations: Pitch, Pulse Width, Mix, Cutoff, Resonance, and Volume. The Modulation envelope destinations lie on the right side of the Router, and you get two additional destinations - Filter FM and LFO Amplitude.

You can limit basic LFO or Mod Envelope depth by using the lower arrow or with the two put together. Deployed separately, the arrows set upper and lower values for LFO Intensity via the Mod Wheel and Mod Envelope Intensity via Velocity.

The single-oscillator architecture of ES1 doesn't make for the thickest pads, but mixing in the suboscillator with a dab of LFO - or opening a second synth with a slightly altered version of the same sound - gives you richer textures.

SYNTH DIYES1 comes with 127 presets, including basses, percussion, leads, pads, and sound effects. The presets are located in a folder accessible at the top of the instrument. The sounds appear as a list, and unfortunately, no hierarchical or subfolder system separates the different types of patches. All customized sounds are automatically saved in a Song; if you want to use them in a different piece, you must save them separately in the ES1 folder.

ES1 has a number of solid presets that work in a variety of settings. However, I was more impressed with the overall sound quality of the synth, as well as with its speed and ease of use. Beginning with a preset, I quickly and easily created new patches to fit each composition I developed.

IN SITUES1's keyboard latency is very low. I recorded fast leads and punchy bass lines without the time lag that plagues some virtual synths. Kudos to the Emagic programmers.

Although Program changes are not supported by ES1 (Emagic says it will add this function soon), you can manipulate and record all other parameters in real time from the graphic interface. That's right, all parameters. For example, you can change a sound's texture by choosing a different oscillator waveform while you're playing.

Unfortunately, the manual conspicuously lacks information about controller assignments. I gathered this information the hard way. After recording continuous controller data from the front panel, I opened the Event List to see each parameter's controller number.

Logic Audio doesn't treat ES1 as a MIDI object. As an audio object, ES1 responds like one. When playing mono lines in legato mode, for example, the instrument sometimes took a second to "catch," resulting in an odd response. You can overcome this by adding a little preroll before you begin playing.

ES1 crashed a couple of times when I tweaked four synths (each with two or three effects plug-ins) at the same time. Things can become unstable under such strenuous CPU demands.

You also cannot cable Logic Audio's arpeggiator to ES1, which is a frustrating situation when you're using a synth married to the Logic Audio environment. Emagic says that you can't cable an object to an audio instrument. Apparently this is a tough programming nut to crack, but the company says it's working on it.

MAGIC SOUNDSI enjoyed the sound and feel of ES1 and the way it integrated into my system. Because it's a plug-in, I didn't need another memory-intensive application to get a quality synth. A big plus is the low latency, which is an important factor when you're using a keyboard.

ES1's manual leaves something to be desired. Although it contains interesting historical information about synthesis, it lacks many important features and issues.

The field of virtual synth plug-ins remains in its infancy, but Emagic has put a lot of power into ES1. It is an essential tool for any Logic Audio user.

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