French developer Arturia has made a significant name for itself with its uncanny emulations of classic instruments such as the Moog Modular V and the ARP2600, but its latest offering has a pronounced twist up its beautifully modeled sleeve: usability. Imagine the sonic cream skimmed lovingly from Arturia's finest instrument plug-ins — the Minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80V, ARP2600 V and Prophet-V — right there in front of you. Sound appetizing?
Analog Factory consists of 2,000 presets designed specifically for these instruments, tightly organized in a neat little browser and ready to embellish your tracks with a minimum of fuss. The key question it has to answer is whether this condensation into tight little droplets of accessibility is worth the loss of depth; essentially, whether less is truly more.
As soon as you fire it up, Analog Factory turns on the charm. Everything is wonderfully clear, the design is intelligent, and the innovative Smart Preset Manager is downright endearing. It filters sounds by Instrument, Type and Characteristics. Searching for a honking-great Moog bass line? Simply select the Minimoog, Bass and Dark options in the browser, and then peruse the resulting list at your leisure. Options can even be combined — never before has it been possible to demand a “bizarre digital pad” from a synth. The onscreen keyboard is cute and useful for auditioning; the ability to fold it up behind the preset selector (with accompanying animation) also adds a touch of class. Finally, the sparsity of controls facilitates a quick and often satisfying operation.
The previous details are merely the sautéed potatoes that accompany the filet mignon of the sound engine itself. Analog Factory is a hybrid beast that wrings a lot of diversity from its component parts, and its presets can be placed in four categories: workmanlike, quirky, wonderful or sadly useless.
In the first group, there's the usual parade of sawtooth basses, detuned string pads, plinky basic-waveform auxiliary sounds, FM squawks and whooshy noise effects. The authority of Arturia's emulation credentials has been established for some time now, but the musical warmth and soft subtlety of some of these simple sounds are enough to make them highly usable if you need a generic analog sound source.
It's clear that some of the rogue's gallery of sound designers at work here may have spent too long in their basements with only patch cords for companionship. Great swirly sample-and-hold monstrosities vie with ferociously detuned maelstroms for dubious triumph, but alongside those are some more interesting experiments. The Modular V acoustic guitar patches are compelling and expressive; the pad sound simply entitled “Wait” blossoms into a huge shimmering wall of sawtooth bliss.
To be sure, there are some truly lovely tones present in this package — the justifications for the concept behind an all-preset instrument. Even the most industrious programmer would be hard-pressed to match these patches. J.M. Blanchet's pads and ambient sounds deserve a special mention, as does the ARP2600 “Boston Strings” and the Prophet VS bell sounds. It's great to be able to grab some of the shimmering textures of the CS-80 with such ease; ditto the wide variety of complex sounds that can be gleaned from the Modular V. It's a little disappointing that some of the richer, fatter sounds associated with these synths haven't been captured, though. Despite several suitably named efforts, there's nothing to approximate Vangelis' classic lead sounds, for example.
Those tempted to delve deeper will be pleased to note that there are some editing possibilities for each sound. An ADSR envelope is provided, as are a selection of four Key Parameters per sound and Chorus and Delay mix controls. Sadly, while those are useful, they aren't particularly well implemented. The envelope frequently seems to have a minimal effect, the Key Parameters are at times poorly selected for each sound, and there's no delay time control. While the delay is automatically MIDI-synced, it's doubtful that you'd want to use it over a plug-in delay. Additionally, the mod wheel is often mapped to a parameter that ostensibly has no effect; some sounds are crying out for a little pitch modulation — surely that should be the default — but they will just have to wait. Finally, the global instrument volume is saved along with the patch, which is a strong contender for Worst Idea Ever.
There's a patch called “Chariots Intro” which plays… wait for it… the intro from the Chariots of Fire theme. Now, manufacturers usually include stuff like that to demonstrate the extensive editing potential of the product, but in this case, there seems to be less room for such filler. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misadventures like that scattered around Analog Factory. An additional blow is the power-hungry nature of the instrument, which makes significant layering virtually impossible on a midrange machine.
Installation of v.1.0 took a while, and it's fair to say that your initial encounter with Analog Factory may be marred somewhat by being forced to contend with installing Synchrosoft's gloriously idiosyncratic copy-protection software, then enduring further chagrin due to Arturia's insistence upon a mandatory USB dongle and then an additional hurdle of online registration.
In terms of performance, Analog Factory ran without noticeable latency both as a stand-alone program and a VST plug-in hosted in Ableton Live 5.2 on my test machine (1.73 GHz Windows XP laptop with 1 GB RAM). You can also boot it up as an Audio Units or RTAS plug-in if that's your thing. I did experience recurrent crashes of both Live and my ASIO driver when switching to certain large patches, so saving is recommended before auditioning a new sound from Analog Factory. Saving and loading patches was a tad fiddly; a couple of times, edited patches seemed to disappear entirely, forcing me to export and import the database on each save and load. The version I was using apparently also seemed to be unable to rename edited patches despite my best efforts. These flaws are annoying but presumably fixable on update and — crash bug aside — don't particularly hamper usage.
PUNCH IN OR PUNCH OUT
At $249, the same price as one of Arturia's full-synth emulations, you have to be certain that Analog Factory will give you enough of the sounds you require without the security of being able to tweak them comprehensively. I recommend an extensive demo session. There is a natural trade-off to be made in terms of flexibility by limiting yourself to a palette of presets, so it's commendable that the variety of sound design present in Analog Factory affords the opportunity of multiple musical approaches.
If rapidity and variety of sound selection is what matters to you, then you will find many usable (and distinctive) tones readily available here, as well as some classics. But be warned that some of the 2,000 “legendary” sounds are less legendary than others.
For exclusive audio examples, read the review atremixmag.com.
ANALOG FACTORY > $249
Pros: Sheer number of sounds. Efficient and rapid preset organization. Simplicity itself.
Cons: Minor bugs. Curious editing choices on some sounds. Annoying USB dongle.
Mac: G4/1.5 GHz; 512 MB RAM; OS X 10.3.9 or later; available USB port
PC: 1.5 GHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP; available USB port