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Review: UVI Synth Anthology 2

May 12, 2017

A well-known comic once said “You can’t have everything: Where would you put it?” If you have a personal studio, that sentiment likely rings true when it comes to hardware instruments. But with Synth Anthology 2, UVI has addressed this conundrum.

Synth Anthology 2 encompasses a selection of 77 hardware synthesizers of varying types and manufacturers that can be played from UVI Workstation (free) and Falcon ($349). The titles of the patch folders provide a clue to the range of synthesis techniques included: Classic and Modern Analog; Analog Modeling, FM, and Formant; Wavetable and Digital; Vector Synthesis; Additive; PCM Synth, and Samplers. Subfolders arrange patches by function, such as leads, pads, and other staples. For example, the Atmosphere-Ethereal subfolder for Classic Analog holds eight patches drawn from the Roland Jupiter 8, and the Oberheim Matrix 6 and OB-X.

The patches are enhanced with reverb, delay, chorus, arpeggiators, and other effects that were often not part of the original synths represented here. Yet the resulting treatment is uniformly welcome throughout. Of course, if you want the original untreated patch, UVI Workstation and Falcon give you the option of turning it all off. In general, there’s plenty of programmability available.

I tested Synth Anthology 2 in both UVI Workstation and Falcon: Each can be used standalone or as a plug-in (AU, AAX, VST). The instruments function identically in both programs. However, Falcon offers greater programming depth, including the ability to assign multiple modulation controls in a Macro. In either case, you aren’t likely to run out of parts; both Falcon and Workstation offer eight parts with up to 16 MIDI channels per part, and assigning patches is simple and intuitive.

UNCOMMON VARIETY

Far from being just another source of the usual vintage stock, Synth Anthology 2 distributes its love to the more obscure and underappreciated instruments, as well as to the popular synthesizers—from the ARP Chroma Polaris, Formanta Polivoks, Ensoniq Fizmo, Kawai K3, and Yamaha FS1R, to stalwarts like the Korg M1 and Triton, Roland JD-800, Studio Electronics ATC and Boomstar 5089, and Alesis Andromeda and Fusion.

Although it’s an intriguing grab-bag of sounds, don’t go looking for specific replications of your favorite factory presets. It would be impossible to re-create the architecture and behavior of each of the synthesizers. So rather than clone the original libraries, the designers chose to sample representative patches with the characteristic sound of the original instruments.

Some of the sonic strong points are the PCM instruments in the Atmosphere-Ethereal folder, which is packed with evolving pads and drones, relying heavily on the Korg M1, Ensoniq VFX, and Roland JD-800. In the Additive category, the Kawai K5000 dominates the patches, albeit with interesting sounds from the Seiko DS 310 and OSC OSCar. Analog synths are also well-represented, and the sampling captures plenty of motion.

ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST

Synth Anthology 2 provides two oscillators. The Main oscillator holds the samples of the targeted instrument. Oscillator two is labeled Sub. Despite what the name suggests, it functions at the same audio rates as the Main oscillator and it produces sounds with UVI’s phase distortion engine, offering a dozen preset waveforms (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1. Synth Anthology 2 combines a sampleplayback oscillator with a phase-distortion synth. The phase-distortion preset waveforms appear on the right, highlighted in orange.

Both of the oscillators share a common effects section. The Sub Oscillator parameters differ slightly, with a selection of waveform volume, and pan position in the main section. However, you can unison-detune, set drive, control filter and pulse-width modulation from the mod wheel, and adjust vibrato and tremolo rates. In general, oscillator two offers departures from strict replications of the source instrument, and you can turn it on or off as is needed. Each oscillator has its own signal path, including filter and amp envelopes as well as an LFO, a programmable arpeggiator, and sequencer.

Access to the amp and filter envelopes is via the Osc page: Envelopes are ADSR, and you can toggle velocity sensitivity as well as route velocity to affect the attack rate for the amp envelope. There is no velocity scaling, though.

The filters include a choice of highpass, band-pass, or lowpass types You’ll find cutoff frequency, resonance, and scalable velocity and filter-envelope depth.

The Edit window accesses pitch and other parameters. Under pitch, you can set the basic frequency in octaves and semitones, and set the amount of glide with the Bend parameter. The manual describes this as portamento, but it also serves up frequency-modulation tricks such as pseudo-attack transients with faster Time settings. Unfortunately, the parameters are also tied to pitch-bend range and whether the patch is monophonic or polyphonic. A separate, simple pitch envelope with velocity sensitivity would be a welcome addition to a future update.

In the Stereo section, you can set the width of the output, turn off stereo, create alternating left-and-right output with successive notes, or turn on Unison mode, which adds samples to the instrument for detuning or color. Unison mode and the left-to-right switching are mutually exclusive.

Fig. 2. The Step page provides independent modulation sequencers for each oscillator.

MOD À LA MODE

The Step page provides 16 steps to sequence modulation, giving you control over volume, cutoff frequency, resonance and drive. With the Sub oscillator, you can modulate pulse width. Each step is a bar that you drag vertically for stronger modulation (see Figure 2).

It’s easy to create gated effects and snapping, resonant rhythm patterns, but if you want subtler transitions, the Smooth knob eases the transitions. Smoothing applies to all steps, and all steps are of equal length.

Fig. 3. Clicking on the UVI Workstation’s FX button opens access to a deeper set of effects parameters as well as the ability to add effects.

Basic controls for effects appear under the FX tab. To access additional effects in the patch, click the smaller FX page button at the right of the instrument’s header (see Figure 3). Effects include UVI’s terrific-sounding Sparkverb, and in the main FX page, you have access to decay and size parameters, whereas the smaller button provides 21 distinct parameters that you can adjust. You can also add effects from UVI’s considerable DSP offerings, including ring modulators and talk-box filters.

The independent 16-step arpeggiators for each oscillator are simple but flexible enough to build interesting rhythms. Vertical bars determine velocity, rhythmic value, octave range, and gate value of each step. You can tie steps together and set the direction of the steps—up, down, or alternating up and down.

The documentation for Synth Anthology 2 is, at best, indifferent, with no references to the additional functions afforded in UVI Workstation or Falcon, and only cursory descriptions of parameter functions. To its credit, Synth Anthology 2 is intuitively laid out, which helps to compensate for the sketchy documentation that is provided. But whether you use Falcon or UVI Workstation: keep the manual for both the library and the host software at hand.

2'S COMPANY

All told, Synth Anthology 2 is an excellent, wide-ranging source of timbres culled from some of the most intriguing synthesizers ever made. There’s plenty of sound-shaping available to add your own sonic signature, and the process is intuitive and rewarding.

If you can afford it, I recommend springing for Falcon to get the amazing depth of programming you can access. But either way, Synth Anthology 2 is a worthy addition to any synthesist’s sound library.

STRENGTHS
Large variety of hardware synths represented. Modulation sequencing and phase distortion oscillators add variety. Intuitive programming and operation.

LIMITATIONS
Sketchy documentation.

$149
uvi.net

Marty Cutler’s book The New Electronic Guitarist is available from Hal Leonard.

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