MOTU's entry into the growing field of sampler plug-ins strikes awelcome balance between simplicity and functionality. Although itboasts a long list of high-end features, MachFive never sacrifices itsstraightforward architecture and easy-to-use interface. For example,all of the operations are managed from a single large virtual frontpanel, and there are clear, concise pop-up hints for each control andfeature. If you're the type who likes to dive right in, you could learnto use most of MachFive's capabilities without ever cracking themanual. What's more, MachFive comes with almost 5 GB of high-qualitysounds, and you can import and convert most popular sampler formatsusing the included UVI-Extract software.
MAC: G3/500 MHz (G4/800 MHz or dual-processor G4recommended); 256 MB RAM (1,024 MB recommended); Mac OS 9 or OSX
MachFive is currently available for Mac OS 9 and OS X in severalplug-in formats: MAS and VST for both operating systems, and RTAS,HTDM, and Audio Units for OS X. A Windows version supporting VST, DXi,RTAS, and HTDM is due out by the time you read this review. MachFivedoes not presently stream sample playback from disk, which means you'llneed a lot of RAM; at least 1 GB is recommended. (MOTU plans to releasea free update shortly that will add support for sample streaming.) Toprevent piracy, the software uses the Pace copy-protection system,which requires a USB port for the iLok hardware key (dongle).
MachFive comes in three varieties classified by the number ofoutputs: stereo, quad, and 6-channel for 5.1 surround. (These are allincluded and available, when appropriate, in the plug-in menu of thehost application.) As of this writing, the Audio Units format supportsonly stereo, although the new surround support in Panther may changethat in the near future. MachFive is also 16-part multitimbral,allowing a single MachFive instance to play up to 16 differentmultisampled instruments.
To make full use of MachFive's synthesis and effects options, youneed a fast CPU; a G4/800 MHz or better is recommended. For thisreview, I used a G4/800 MHz PowerBook. By minimizing the use of filtersand DSP effects and working in 32-bit mode (more RAM, less CPU), I wasable to get 24 voices from the VST, Audio Units, and MAS versionswithout pushing the CPU meter over 50 percent.
|FIG. 1:MOTU's MachFive 1.07 uses a single control panel with eight functionalareas. The File Browser and Part sections (left) manage presents ondisk and in memory. The Display Area and Keygroup parameters (center)handle multisample management. The Master section, Part parameters, LFOsection, and FX section (right) control output parameters, LFOselection and routing, and effects.|
As mentioned earlier, all of MachFive's operations are carried outfrom a single multisection control panel (see Fig. 1). Thatallows for fast and convenient access to all of the features, but someof the text displays are quite small and, especially in the orangeareas, difficult to read. Many of the gray-on-gray labels are alsounnecessarily hard to read.
The File Browser at the top left of the panel manages samples,presets, Soundbanks, and Performances, all of which must reside in theMachFive Sounds folder on your hard drive. That isn't as limiting as itmight seem at first, because aliases to folders containing samples canbe used instead of the actual sample data. A preset consists of themultisample map, defining key and Velocity zones (called Keygroups)together with synthesis and effects routings and settings. A differentpreset can be loaded into each of MachFive's 16 Parts, which aremanaged in the section below the File Browser.
A Performance consists of all Part settings, together with allMachFive global settings. The same information is automatically savedby the host software along with a project, so Performances are reallyneeded only for exchanging setups between projects. MachFive offersseveral convenient archiving options when saving Performances: you canelect to simultaneously save all presets with or without their samples,and you can save the Performance as a Soundbank, which saves everythingin MachFive RAM in a single, new Soundbank folder.
|FIG. 2:MachFive's included UVI-Extract software allows you to importinstrument presets and banks in most popular sampleformats.|
MachFive supports direct loading (including drag-and-drop) ofsamples in WAV, AIFF, and SDII format. You can import other sampleformats as well as instruments and banks in other sampler formats usingthe included UVI-Extract software (see Fig. 2). UVI-Extract islaunched directly from the MachFive control panel, and its operation isseamlessly integrated with MachFive in the sense that imported data isautomatically placed in the correct folders and loaded into MachFive.Supported instrument formats include SoundFont, Giga, Akai, E-mu,Pulsar, SampleCell (instruments and banks), EXS24, and Kurzweil. Iconverted SoundFont, Giga, SampleCell, and EXS24 instruments withoutany problems other than having to adjust a few parameters, which is tobe expected.
SUM OF THE PARTS
As I pointed out, MachFive Parts hold presets, but Parts alsocontain settings beyond those of the preset: for example, MIDI Channel,audio output, and mixer and effects settings. Because the MIDI channelfor each Part can be freely assigned, setting up layers couldn't beeasier. Using the optional Expert settings, you can assign MIDI notesto mute and unmute individual Parts, you can set up automatic fade-insand fade-outs across MIDI note ranges, and you can even assign MIDIcontrollers to fade Parts in and out. Parts also contain alternatesettings for octave, tuning, Pitch Bend range, Velocity curve, monomode, and glide. That allows you to have temporary settings for thoseparameters saved with the project or Performance without affecting thepreset settings.
|FIG. 3:MachFive's Group Editor lets you assign Keygroups to as many as 16separate groups. Selecting a group lets you edit parameters for allincluded Keygroups simultaneously.|
By default, the Display Area shows a Keygroup Editor in the lowerpane and a Sample Editor in the upper pane (see Fig. 3). Theupper pane has five additional modes: List Editor, Group Editor, SampleInfo, Spectrum Analyzer, and Sample Tuner. The last two are very handyfor setting synthesis parameters, such as filter cutoff and EQ, and forfine-tuning individual samples.
The Sample Editor lets you set start and end points, looping styleand boundaries, and basic DSP functions, such as normalizing, fading,and reversing. Edits are initially nondestructive, affecting only thesample in RAM, but you can also make them permanent by saving thesample. Although the Sample Editor is the largest part of the MachFiveDisplay Area, it can still be a bit awkward to use for detailedediting. It can, however, be expanded to take up the entire DisplayArea, which provides a better view of the data, and you can zoom in tothe sample level to improve editing accuracy.
MachFive 1.07 (Mac)
|EASE OF USE||4.5|
|RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5|
PROS: Easy to use.Supports most sampler formats. Flexible effects routing. Includes largelibrary of samples. Versatile editing capabilities.
CONS: Doesn't stream fromdisk (yet). Panel can be hard to read. Requires USB port forcopy-protection key
tel. (617) 576-2760
The List Editor lets you numerically edit sample-mapping parameters,such as note and Velocity range, base (root) note, trigger mode(several forms of Note On and Note Off triggering are provided), outputrouting, and routing to four insert effects buses. The Group Editorlets you assign each zone to any of 16 groups (multiple assignments areallowed). You can then use the Select menu to select all Keygroups in agroup and edit their parameters simultaneously.
The Keygroup Parameters section (bottom center) providessubtractive-synthesis-style processing. It includes a resonantmultimode filter with overdrive, a pitch-modulation section, and anoutput-level and pan section. Modulation sources include three AHDSRenvelope generators and four multiwaveform, syncable LFOs. Two of theLFOs are global, but all other parameters can be applied on anindividual Keygroup basis. MIDI Pitch Bend, Note Number, Channel andPoly Pressure, Velocity, and Control Change messages are also availableas modulation sources. (There are 28 modulation sources in all.)
MachFive offers 29 DSP effects and an extremely flexible busingscheme. The effects cover the usual bases and more, including fivetypes of delays, three types of reverb, chorus, flanger, tremolo,phaser, “crossphaser,” autopan, rotary speaker, auto wah,multiband EQ, “filter” effects, “drive”effects, and gate. There are also a number of unusual effects, such asRobotizer and UVI Drive. Each of the effects has a submenu for presets,but surprisingly, you can't add your own presets to that menu.
Sixteen effects slots are organized into groups of four: four inserteffects arranged in parallel for each Part, four more Part effectsarranged in series, four send effects arranged in parallel (each Parthas its own aux-send controls), and four Master effects arranged inseries and applied to MachFive's overall output. As the manual pointsout, that adds up to a whopping 88 effects paths and 136 effects slots.Of course, DSP effects and synth processing both suck up CPU cycles andneed to be used sparingly to maximize MachFive's voice count.
If MachFive is your first sampler, the large library of includedsamples will be a welcome addition, and most of the banks aretop-notch. The Soundlib Büsendorfer Soundbank is a great-sounding16-bit, 48 kHz multisampled Büsendorfer grand piano extracted froman upcoming commercial 24-bit, 96 kHz version.
The Electric Keyboards Soundbank contains five Rhodes pianos and twoHammond organs, each sampled with 24-bit, 96 kHz audio quality andoffered in four sizes. For example, the largest Rhodes preset hassamples for every note at four Velocity levels; the smallest preset hastwo sampled notes per octave at three Velocities. Guitars and Bass isanother 24-bit, 96 kHz Soundbank with a modest number of exquisitelysampled instruments: three acoustic guitars, three electric guitars,and three basses.
The Drum Kits Soundbank includes four stick kits and four brush kitsin the General MIDI format, and it also includes presets dedicated toindividual percussion instruments; the 24-bit, 96 kHz samples areexcellently recorded. The rest of the Soundbanks are “sneakpreviews” of various commercial libraries. I found some usablestuff, but mostly it just whets your appetite for the fullversions.
SPEED OF SOUND
MachFive offers a welcome compromise between complexity and ease ofuse. Its synthesis and effects sections take you far beyondload-and-play sampler plug-ins that allow you to map and playmultisamples but do little else. And best of all, getting around onMachFive is not rocket science; you won't spend a lot of timescratching your head wondering what this or that module does. Thesoftware is generally CPU efficient and has the significant advantageof being available in a wide range of plug-in formats. If you are inthe market for a professional-level software sampler, especially onewith a streamlined, up-front user interface, you should definitelycheck out MachFive.