If you have a local convenience store, it may be the only place to satisfy your CornNut cravings at 3:30 a.m., but you get jacked on the price. Well, Arturia Analog Factory Experience (AFE) is all about convenience, but fortunately it comes at a very reasonable cost. With its thousand of quality presets, easy setup and skin-tight integration between the keyboard and the hardware, AFE brings supreme convenience to musicians and producers who want to get rolling with slick sounds fast, either in the studio or onstage.
Analog Factory Experience combines the Analog Factory 2 soft synth with a 32-key velocity-sensitive keyboard from CME using its U-Key technology.
Remix reviewed Analog Factory 1 in the October 2006 issue and concluded that while some of the 2,000 presets were throwaways, you still got a huge variety of usable sounds from Arturia's renowned virtual instruments: Minimoog V, Prophet V, ARP 2600V, Moog Modular V and CS-80V. With Analog Factory 2, Arturia bulked up the presets to 3,500, many of them coming from the Jupiter-8V (reviewed in the July 2007 Remix).
Analog Factory addresses people who don't consider themselves sound designers and would rather quickly audition and play a boatload of time-tested analog-style synth sounds. The GUI allows easy preset navigation, letting you drill down to sounds according to the source instrument, sound type (brass, bass, pad, etc.) and characteristics such as “complex,” “simple,” “short,” and “long.” Each sound has filter cutoff and resonance controls, an ADSR amplitude envelope, chorus and delay effects and four Key Parameters selected for each sound.
While the software's tweakability is limited, you can still achieve sounds that are very different from the original, and you get eight Snapshot buttons that can store and recall instances of the sound you're working on to compare settings, saving the sound once you're happy.
Arturia increased AFE's convenience by ditching the annoying USB dongle license protection in favor of a Syncrosoft software licenser that ties the software to a single computer. You can transfer your license between computers with a Syncrosoft USB dongle if you choose to use AFE on multiple machines, one at a time.
A PHYSICAL RELATIONSHIP
AFE's keyboard makes this simple concept look more like simple genius. The keyboard exactly matches the software's controls with hardware controls, so using it really feels like using a hardware synth that happens to have a computer display. In fact, once you install and license the software, connect the bus-powered keyboard to a USB port, turn on the board and launch the software, you don't really have to touch the mouse at all to navigate, play, edit and save presets. With the board's push-button Search encoder, you cycle through all the instruments, sound types and characteristics, pushing the button to select/deselect search criteria. You navigate the resulting presets with the Presets ± buttons.
All of the keyboard's knobs are endlessly rotating, and when you adjust them or the ADSR faders, you must pass the current setting of the sound's parameter before changes take effect, eliminating sudden parameter jumps. Those are the perfect conditions for zipping through a lot of sounds and making carefree tweaks as you please.
Built solidly with an aluminum casing and wood side panels, the AFE keyboard feels ready for road use. Its robust build, the speed and ease with which you get it up and running and its consistently stable operation (on Macs runing OS 10.4 and 10.5), lead me to think that AFE could be a legit option for using with a laptop and audio interface as a sound module onstage. It ran very smoothly as a stand-alone synth, a VST plug-in for Ableton Live, and an Audio Units plug for Logic and GarageBand.
The keyboard proved to be a capable MIDI controller as well. All of its buttons and controls are MIDI programmable, and it was easy as can be to assign them to different plug-in, channel-strip and other functions using the MIDI learn functions of the particular host software. You can use the keyboard as a MIDI controller on a computer without the Analog Factory software license or with external gear. My only complaint is that the key action is a little on the meek side.
AFE is an excellent tool for anyone who may be in-timidated by the technicality of computer music, or who wants fast access to a gaggle of nice analog sounds.
ANALOG FACTORY EXPERIENCE > $349
Pros: Inexpensive for the number of the presets and robust, well-designed controller. Pinpoint integration between software and hardware. Stable operation. MIDI programmable keyboard works with or without the software license. Easy setup. Roadworthy.
Cons: Key action leaves something to be desired.
Mac: G4, G5 or Intel/1.5 GHz; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.3.9 or later; Internet connection for authorization
PC: 1.5 GHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP/Vista; Internet connection for authorization