OVERWRITE >Just like the original ARP 2600, TimewARP 2600 is a semimodular synth, meaning that the separate modules are preconnected so you can start making sounds right away. Of course, these routings can be changed with the use of virtual patch cables.
Way Out Ware is not the first at the party with an ARP 2600 emulation, but the wait is worth the while. Nevertheless, it's hard to extol the virtues of virtual synthesizers without amassing a stack of clichés: Yes, they're far less expensive, eminently available, much more portable, and you can even save your patches! But there is no such thing as a perfect emulation of a hardware synth — there are always going to be some distinctions. Yet these distinctions are getting so thin as to be laughable. Most often, the people who crow the most about the “inferiority” of virtual synths are those who own the real thing. It's easy to understand the envy of people who spent 10 times as much money for a cantankerous, heavy, unstable beast on which patches cannot be stored when they see happy users with excellent emulations that fool all but the tiniest group of seasoned, cynical professionals. The ownership of vintage analog synthesizers is for the wealthy and the hardcore, but, now, the proletariat has access to the dulcet tones of yesteryear just like the elites. And TimewARP 2600 is all that and a bag of chips.
First of all, Way Out Ware went way out of its way to model the ARP 2600 — to the extent that the virtual version behaves, in essence, exactly like the genuine article: It is not just a conglomeration of modules. And speaking of modules, the age-old question about 2600s is, are they modular or integrated? They are both. Think of them in the same way you think about a patch bay; most patch points are normaled to their respective modules. As a result, you can simply grab a potentiometer and increase or decrease the output, or control voltage, or whatever. You can quickly dial up a patch just by tweaking knobs, or you can dig in deeply and break out the patch cords to sculpt the perfect timbre for your composition.
Along the top of TimewARP's GUI are a number of buttons. There are group, category and patch drop-down lists enabling quick recall of a patch. The Patch Manager button allows for simplified organization of groups, categories and patches. I have struggled and fought with the simplified file-management systems of many a soft synth or DAW, but this one really does work as advertised, with import and export; cut, copy and paste; up and down; and rename and delete functions. The up an down functions allow you to move patches up or down in order for the arrangement of MIDI patch lists. Another button determines polyphony. Among the remaining controls across the top is a Reset button that removes all patch cords and returns all sliders to normal. You will also find three indicators up there for MIDI activity, output level and CPU load. TimewARP also has a “magic logo” badge on its panel. If you click on it, you can load or save MIDI maps, load alternate tunings and set up MIDI sync.
The panel sports a total of 81 minijacks: 45 inputs, 29 outputs and seven that function both ways. There are also a total of 58 sliders (and a handful of rotary knobs, slider switches and push buttons). If this proliferation of controls doesn't scratch your itch to tweak and experiment, you need to seek professional help. Most minijacks are normaled to the default signal source indicated by an icon under them, hence the integrated nature of the synth. Nonetheless, these routings can be broken by patching in, hence the modular nature of this synth. It truly goes both ways.
MEET THE MODULES
The obvious place to start here are the three voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs). VCO1 provides saw, square and sine. The VCO1 in a real 2600 does not give you a sine wave, which is a nice value-added benefit. You can change the frequency range from LFO (0.03 to 30 Hz) up to audio (10 Hz to 20kHz), so the VCO is also useful as an LFO modulator. VCO2 gives you sine, triangle, sawtooth and pulse outputs. A slider controls pulse width, but you can also accomplish pulse-width modulation with a control signal. The frequency is adjustable between LFO and audio ranges just like VCO1. Finally, VCO3 provides sawtooth, pulse and sine outputs. Again, the VCO3 in a real 2600 does not provide a sine output. In this case, pulse width is only manually adjustable. As with the other two oscillators, both LFO and audio frequency ranges are available. The bottom line here with regard to the oscillators — they sound marvelous, by the way — is that having three really kicks open the door to some wild possibilities. The extra waveforms are a nice touch, as well.
Moving on, the 24dB/octave voltage-controlled filter (VCF) is very simple, with controls for cutoff frequency and resonance. There are both coarse and fine controls for cutoff, and it can be voltage-controlled with defaults to the keyboard's control voltage, the ADSR envelope generator and VCO2. The slider enabling keyboard voltage control over cutoff did not exist on the original 2600, but is a nice and handy addition here. There are a total of five inputs, which are summed prior to being fed into the filter. The filter will self-resonate if you crank up the Q and can yield some nice acid-type chirping. The modeling of this filter is splendid, and it just sounds great. I had a blast modulating the filter with VCO2 in the audio range — arriving at some pretty killer buzz-saw-type leads.
TimewARP also has two envelope generators — an ADSR and an AR. The envelopes can be triggered by gate signals from the keyboard, a manual-start push button on the panel or any other square-wave or pulse signal. The AR generator actually functions as an ASR, as it sustains maximum control voltage until the end of the gate signal that triggered it, at which time, the release phase commences. The voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA) has two inputs, defaulted to the outputs of the VCF and the ring modulator. There are two level controls, one with linear sensitivity and the other exponential. By default, the AR envelope generator feeds the linear, and the ADSR feeds the exponential.
The mix, pan and reverb output module gets your synthesized creation out to the real world, enabling panning and the introduction of reverb. There's also an envelope follower that generates an envelope based upon an external input, which is eminently useful when using the synth as a signal processor. TimewARP also has a ring modulator, an oft-used effect among synthesists in the 1970s, as well as a cool noise generator, the output of which is continuously variable from white noise to red noise (obviously, pink noise is right smack in the middle). A voltage-processor module enables the summation and inversion of control signals and also contains a lag processor, which is, in essence, a lowpass filter. A sample-and-hold module produces stepped control voltages that can be applied wherever you like; I had fun with the arpeggio patches that utilize this module. TimewARP also has an internal clock, which can be synched to MIDI. And the program's virtual keyboard has five octaves and a control panel that is modeled upon the ARP 3620 keyboard. It includes an independent LFO, dual-pitch control output, gate and trigger controls, transposition and portamento controls.
When you first sit down with TimewARP 2600, I strongly recommend that you set aside several days, if not a week, during which you'll have nothing else important to do, like eating, going to work or interfacing with other human beings. Yeah, you could just dial up the included patches and noodle around, but any normal person will be tweaking and experimenting in the first five minutes. And as I've said before, there are many tweakable parameters to keep you busy far longer than is good for you. Anytime I've ever had the privilege of toying with expensive vintage equipment, I have approached it timidly, fearing the repercussions of making a patch or pushing a sequence of buttons that results in smoke and fire. With a virtual synth, there are no worries. You can try anything. Obviously, you'll want to approach your experimentation with some understanding of analog synthesis, and to that extent, Way Out Ware includes a tutorial called Patchman along with some experimental patches. They are an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to dig into analog synthesis.
Unlike its hardware ancestor, TimewARP is polyphonic, but it can beat your CPU like a bongo drum. Part of the reason for this is that Way Out Ware really did its homework to ensure that every detail is exact and perfect. This thing literally does behave precisely like the genuine article, with the obvious exceptions of modern updates. There are some nice patches included with the synth, including some from third parties, such as synth wiz Richard Devine. One thing I really like about the way patches are stored is the categorization. Invariably, when I'm working on a project, I'll start with a factory patch and then tweak it to work perfectly for what I'm doing. TimewARP's scheme makes the navigation easy to accomplish this.
Furthermore, there are some knock-off patches here that truly amaze, such as German 3way, a spot-on version of the filter-swept three-note chord in Kraftwerk's “Autobahn.” Other dead-on patches include Zawinul's “Birdland” bass, leads that recall Styx and Genesis, a Lyle Mays square-wave lead and an Edgar Winter — esque “Frankenstein” filter-sweep thing. The one that really knocked me out, however, was the Keith Emerson “Lucky Man” square-wave lead programmed by Bruce MacPherson. I got to playing with this thing, and for a few moments, I had Zawinul's left hand and Emerson's right hand — okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but some of these patches are simply breathtaking.
GET IN THE TIME MACHINE
With its attractive photorealistic control panel (which looks like a Grey Meanie for those of you who were wondering) and spot-on accurate emulation of the 2600's modules and true behavior, TimewARP 2600 is a must-have tool for anyone who would otherwise possess or covet an ARP 2600. If you're a veteran 2600 user, you'll discover that this synth truly does nail down the behavior of the genuine article, with the obvious and welcome exceptions of 21st-century updates such as polyphony and patch storage. I will certainly use TimewARP to get big, fat basses and searing leads, among other things, but I will more likely use it as a plug-in. I experimented with putting all kinds of signals through its filters and other processing, and the quality of the results bowled me over. I have hundreds of plug-ins, including dozens of ways to filter a signal, but I will be turning to TimewARP's filter as a first choice on many future occasions. It exhibits a powerful duality — partially an incredible synthesizer emulation, partially a powerful and flexible plug-in.
For the price, it's hard to find any other product that will contribute so much to your projects. Alan R. Pearlman (the “A-R-P” of ARP) has signed off on this emulation, and Jim Michmerhuizen, the author of the original 2600 manual, signed on to write the TimewARP manual (which includes a nice chapter describing analog synthesis). Way Out Ware really did go way out of its way to nail this down and get it exactly right.
WAY OUT WARE
(DIST. BY M-AUDIO)
TIMEWARP 2600 > $249.95
Pros: Überrealistic emulation of the ARP 2600.
Cons: Anything you don't like about a real 2600. CPU hog.
Mac: G4/1GHz; 256 MB RAM; Mac OS 10.3 or later; VST-, RTAS- or AU-compatible host required for plug-in use
PC: Intel-compatible/1.5GHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows XP; VST- or RTAS-compatible host required for plug-in use