Many electronic musicians rely on virtual instruments only because we lack the financial resources to acquire and maintain roomfuls of vintage hardware. Instead, we settle for software running on our computers. Soft synths emulate classic keyboards by modeling their sound and behavior, whereas samplers play sounds recorded from the original instruments.
Paris-based soundware maker UVI has long been a dependable purveyor of high-quality sampler content, ranging from the plunk, rattle, and squeak of a children’s toy museum to the jazzy stylings of a 1930s Gypsy swing band. UVI’s largest library is a synth collection that gives you a lot more bang for the buck than all the others. Vintage Vault comprises samples of more than 40 hardware synths and 80 drum machines—the complete contents of 15 current UVI products for less than the price of the two of them purchased separately.
Like all UVI soundware, Vintage Vault is formatted for its sophisticated sample player, UVIWorkstation. The Mac- and Windows-compatible software is free to download and runs either standalone or as an AAX, AU, or VST plug-in. UVIWorkstation is multitimbral, meaning you can load multiple sample libraries at the same time and play them on separate MIDI channels.
UVI sampled each source instrument’s oscillators with the filters wide open, allowing UVIWorkstation’s filters, envelopes, and modulators to do all the heavy lifting during playback. The result is that Vintage Vault functions and sounds much like a real synth. You can convincingly tweak most parameters in real time, either manually or with modulators, and save any parameter changes you make. UVIWorkstation also handles step sequencing, arpeggiation, and effects processing for all instruments.
Each library’s GUI matches the look and feel of the sampled synth it contains while providing controls for all UVIWorkstation parameters, even if some of those parameters were missing from the original instrument (see Figure 1). As with most synth sample libraries, the product names have been changed to more or less resemble the names of their source instruments, some more closely than others. For example, the Minimoog library is called Ultra Mini, Sequential Circuits Prophet VS is Vector Pro, and NED Synclavier is The Beast.
UVI recorded most of the samples as 24-bit, 96kHz WAV files, converted them to 16/44.1, compressed them to lossless FLAC, and then converted them to UFS format to ensure maximum audio quality with minimum file size. You can order the entire package on a USB flash drive or download 15 separate files varying in size from 53 MB to 17.38 GB, which decompress into 21 UFS files. The complete download is about 65GB. You can authorize Vintage Vault for as many as three computers using your iLok account, but no dongle is necessary.
To save any parameter changes you make in the standalone version of UVIWorkstation, you can’t just save the current preset. You must save the entire multi, which includes as many as four parts with all their presets, parameter values, effects assignments, and so on. Saving a multi instead of a preset isn’t a problem, but it caught me by surprise because the procedure wasn’t immediately obvious. When you’re running a plug-in in your DAW, however, saving your project file should save any parameter changes you’ve made.
STUCK IN THE ’70S
Ultra Mini is based on samples of two formidable analog monosynths, one launched in 1971 and the other in 2010—the Minimoog Model D and the Minimoog Voyager XL. The Minimoog has had an undeniable impact on the sound of modern music, and Ultra Mini represents the breadth of its sounds quite well. Although only the oscillators were sampled to create this library, UVIWorkstation’s modeled filters do a commendable job of emulating Moog’s analog filters. Ultra Mini gives you 422 presets in monophonic, polyphonic, and lite versions.
Fig. 2. Just as on a real Mellotron, a three-position switch lets you select from three sounds in each of the 12 presets. The “virtual modification” on the upper-right extends the instrument’s pitch range and alters the stereo signal. Introduced in the mid-1960s, the Mellotron used recording tape to play back the sounds of acoustic instruments. It was best known for the string ensemble, flute, and choir sounds it contributed to the music of the Beatles and progressive rock bands like the Moody Blues, Yes, and King Crimson. The 12 presets in UVI’s Mello library contributes all the Mellotron’s signature sounds and more. UVIWorkstation lets you access parameters the original didn’t offer, including controls that affect the stereo image (see Figure 2).
String Machines is a collection of 16 presets sampled from 11 instruments, most of them paraphonic synthesizers from the 1970s. In addition to old standards like the ARP/Solina String Ensemble, Crumar Performer, and Roland RS-505, the library features less popular synths like the Logan String Melody, Eko Stradivarius, and Excelsior K4. Frankly, I was surprised at how different some of these instruments sound. If you want string-like pads that don’t sound like everyone else’s, start here.
KEEPING THE ’80S ALIVE
Vintage Legends may be the star of the show. At $349, this bundle of six libraries is also the most expensive when purchased on its own. Some of the included instruments are relatively rare: Energy (Digital Keyboards Synergy), Synthox (Elka Synthex), Kroma (Rhodes Chroma), U1250 (Kurzweil K250), FMX1 (Yamaha DX1), and CS-M (Yamaha CS-70M, CS-40M, and CS-20M). All except Energy were previously available as separate products.
Fig. 3. Use UVIWorkstation’s browser to open libraries, instruments, and presets. Once they’re open, some instruments also have menus for selecting presets without going through the browser. FMX1 gives you all the DX-style mallet percussion, electric pianos, and plucky basses you’d expect, along with other distinctive sounds (see Figure 3). It can’t duplicate the interaction between operators you’d get from a real DX1, but Velocity layering provides a good imitation. Although most of Yamaha’s CS series has been ignored in favor of the mighty CS-80, the CS-M library proves that its siblings are also capable of wonderful analog timbres with a lot of character and versatility.
Energy delivers sounds typical of a 32-oscillator additive synthesizer. A few presets add a touch of Wendy Carlos to your music, with its best sounds ranging from lovely and delicate to big and powerful. If you’re looking for a variety of timbres that stand out from the pack, you should check out Synthox, too.
Digital Synsations is a similar assortment, but it features late-’80s synths you’re more likely to find in someone’s stage rig. DS1 gets its waveforms from a Korg M1; DS77, a Yamaha SY77; DS90s, a Roland D50; and DSX, an Ensoniq VFX. The waves stored in those instruments were short, looped samples supplemented by other forms of synthesis. Though the sounds are relatively primitive by today’s standards, more than 500 Digital Synsations presets capture the spirit of the era in the best light possible.
UVX-3P concentrates on the JX-3P, Roland’s first MIDI synth. Some synthesists love it, but I’ve always thought its digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) sounded cold and brittle. The DCOs in Roland’s Super JX-10 were a noticeable improvement, and you can hear the difference in the UVX-10P library, which also features the MKS-70 (a rackmount version of the JX-10) and its predecessor, the JX-8P.
Vector Pro covers two synths that pioneered vector synthesis. Vector synths use joysticks or modulators to animate sounds by crossfading the oscillators. In terms of gigabytes, this library is the largest in Vintage Vault. It spotlights Sequential Circuits’ groundbreaking Prophet VS and Yamaha’s less consequential follow-up, the SY-22. A third selection is Vector Pro VX, a dual-layer synth that expands on the Prophet VS’s capabilities. Some of the 560 presets let you pan between waveforms with your mod controller, and others impart motion using slow envelopes and undulating LFOs. Conspicuous in their absence are sounds from Korg’s Wavestation series, which helped advance vector synthesis far beyond its beginnings.
In the ’80s, the pricey Fairlight CMI was the digital workstation of choice for well-heeled recording studios. It was also the first digital sampler. Darklight IIx comprises samples from the 1983 version, the Fairlight Series IIx. All the sounds—many of them short, one-shot samples stretched across the keyboard with no multisampling or layering—were taken from the original instrument’s content, complete with artifacts from digital audio’s dark ages. Darklight IIx is presented in three contexts: Page P, a straightforward synth; Page B, a unique drum-loop player; and Page U, a 3-part, 3-track step sequencer.
The Beast is built around samples recorded from three editions of the Fairlight’s American competitor, New England Digital’s Synclavier II. The Synclavier was an even more expensive digital synthesizer that tamed FM synthesis before Yamaha and pioneered multitrack sequencing. Although the GUI looks every bit as primitive as the original, it offers all the same sound-shaping parameters as UVI’s other libraries. Not surprisingly, Beast FM II specializes in FM sounds. Beast Terminal furnishes samples from the Synclavier library, and Beast Box uses both FM and sampled sounds to produce drum hits and patterns.
Fig. 4. One of the instruments sampled for WaveRunner is the Waldorf Microwave XT. Almost two decades later, it still sounds remarkable modern and evocative. WaveRunner traces the evolution of German wavetable synthesizers, beginning with 1978’s PPG Wavecomputer 360 up until 2002’s Waldorf Rack Attack. You also get the better-known PPG Wave 2.0 and 2.3 and Waldorf Microwave XT (see Figure 4). You may have played software emulations of the Wave before, but to my ears, most of WaveRunner’s 685 presets sound far superior.
SAMPLERS AND DRUM MACHINES
Emulation One and Emulation II are unusual because they supply samples made popular by samplers. Emulation One concentrates on Emu’s Emulator, the first affordable 8-bit sampler. Emulation II focuses on its successor, the 12-bit Emulator II. Both libraries throw in samples from E-mu’s percussive sample player, the Drumulator. You’ll recognize a surprising number of the presets from all three instruments as sounds that helped defined pop music in the ’80s. Most of the timbres have a gritty quality that now sound nostalgic.
Beat Box Anthology furnishes samples from 80 rhythm boxes, drum machines, and electronic drums—283 presets in all. Source instruments encompass all the usual suspects, including the Roland TR808 and CR-8000, Casio RZ-1, Yamaha RX8, LinnDrum LM-2, and Alesis HR-16, to name only a few. It also features a substantial number of hard-to-find, lesser-known classics such as the Amdek RMK-100, Elka Wilgamat, Godwin DrumMaker 45, MPC The Kit, Tama TechStar TAM500, Ted Digisound, and Wersi Wersimatic WM 24. Whatever kind of electronic drum sound you need, you’ll certainly find it here.
Fig. 5. UVI’s Beat Box Anthology furnishes samples from 80 source instruments, including the Roland TR-808. Beat Box Anthology divides its presets into Kits, Loops, and Sounds. Kits give you a collection of different drum hits mapped across the keyboard to comprise all of a device’s sounds, whereas Loops give you patterns you can slice or stretch. The Sounds category gives you single hits mapped to middle C, which you can transpose by playing any other note.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Most of the presets in Vintage Vault are imbued with a living, breathing, 3-dimensional quality that’s often missing from sampled synth libraries. Playing any of these instruments feels more like playing a real synthesizer than you’d probably expect. Each synth may look different, but because they all share UVIWorkstation’s particular assortment of parameters, learning to use one of them makes it easier to use all of them.
If you want to inject some vintage vibe into your playing, Vintage Vault may be just what you need. If it’s your job to supply synth effects and random electronic sounds for studio sessions, consider it your magic bag of tricks. If you’re in a band that plays hit songs from the late 20th century, load up your laptop and stop schlepping around so many instruments. And if you can’t find $500 worth of useful timbres in this collection, then either you’re deaf or electronic music just isn’t your thing.
Terrific assortment of useful, inspiring, and well-executed sounds. Excellent balance of well-known instruments and hard-to-find classics. Very good filter modeling. Good bargain.
Requires ample disk space to install entire bundle. Bypasses filters on source instruments. Saving edits to presets not intuitive. Inflexible modulation routing.
$499 download or USB flash drive
This year marks three decades since Geary Yelton first reviewed a synthesizer in the pages of Electronic Musician. He has a lot to be grateful for, and he knows it.