Want to lose 200 pounds of excess weight and save more than $6,000 in the process? Compared with the original Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, that's exactly what Arturia's CS-80V accomplishes. The CS-80 was an undisputed heavyweight in more ways than one, inspiring as much fear in roadies as awe in musicians. CS-80V is a soft synth that emulates the CS-80 in remarkable detail.
If a synth doesn't sound good, being able to tuck it under your arm in a notebook computer doesn't mean much. Fortunately, Arturia has done a good job of capturing the sonic character of the original behemoth. Additional niceties such as an arpeggiator, a modulation matrix, and a Multi mode bring the virtual instrument to a level the pre-MIDI CS-80 never reached on its own.
CS-80V is one of the most widely compatible virtual instruments I've encountered. In addition to standalone operation as a CoreAudio instrument in Mac OS X and as an ASIO or DirectSound instrument in Windows, CS-80V supports just about every plug-in format imaginable. Under Windows, it supports VST, DXi, RTAS, and HTDM hosts; under Mac OS 9, it supports VST, MAS, RTAS, and HTDM hosts; and under Mac OS X, it supports VST, RTAS, HTDM, and Audio Units hosts.
Installation was quick and simple — for copy protection, you are required to enter only a serial number. Whenever you import a new bank, you must insert the installation disc.
CS-80V's interface, modeled after the original CS-80's, can be daunting at first. Dozens of virtual sliders, buttons, and knobs fill the front panel (see Fig. 1). You can simply choose Presets from a drop-down list; however, once you learn your way around the controls, you'll probably find yourself twiddling sliders and knobs endlessly.
At the bottom of the interface is a keyboard that lets you trigger notes with a mouse if your MIDI controller is out of reach. At the keyboard's left is a set of performance controls that include tremolo, portamento/glissando, sustain, delay, chorus, and pedal behavior. Above the keyboard are additional performance controls, including a ribbon controller, just like the one on the original CS-80. The arpeggiator, which is not included on the original equipment, sits at the left of the ribbon controller. The next row up offers a ring modulator, a suboscillator, two rows of Preset buttons, and an assortment of keyboard parameter controls.
The heart of the CS-80V is located in the next segment up, which contains two nearly identical rows of controls that map out the signal flow of the CS-80's synthesis engine from left to right. At the right of these controls is a Mix slider that determines the balance of the two signal paths.
At the far left of this section, the original CS-80 opened to reveal four sets of tiny sliders that corresponded to the main synthesis controls. Along with the main controls, these sliders defined the user Presets that were enabled with the white Preset buttons. CS-80V also hides controls behind a virtual flip-up panel, but it offers a modulation matrix in place of the Preset sliders. The matrix lets you map any of 12 modulation sources to any of 38 destinations. Up to ten such mappings can be stored for each Preset (see Fig. 2).
Above the main synthesis controls are CS-80V's Multi mode controls, with which you can assign up to eight Presets to any of four zones (see Fig. 3). You can detune, transpose, and pan layers, as well as define the key range of each zone. Controls for saving, loading, importing, and exporting Presets and other settings are at the top of the panel.
Shaping CS-80V's sound is mostly a matter of tweaking sliders. It's an intuitive and highly visual approach. Dragging a slider with the right mouse button (on the PC) or while holding Shift (on the Mac) changes the scale of the slider's movement so that you can make finer adjustments. Very few of the CS-80's controls have center detents, so CS-80V makes no provision to normal a control. However, having the ability to type in exact parameter values would have been a time-saver.
The fact that the layout faithfully follows the original is a mixed blessing. Although the CS-80's configuration of controls is great on the front panel of a big old keyboard, it is difficult to see the labels of the various controls when so much is packed into a plug-in window. On a 17-inch monitor at Cakewalk Sonar's recommended 1280-by-1024-pixel resolution, I can't read the labels without leaning in for a closer view. CS-80V has a button that makes the panel disappear, leaving just the keyboard and performance controls visible. It would be useful to have another button that fills the plug-in window with just the two rows of synthesis controls. Another improvement would be to have parameter names and values displayed in larger type when you position the cursor over a control. CS-80V's user interface is one case in which being true to the appearance of the modeled instrument has a downside.
Fortunately, memorizing CS-80V's layout is easy, so you won't be squinting for long. Every control can be assigned a MIDI controller, so serious tweakers might not look at the screen much at all. Many virtual instruments let you right-click to assign controllers, but because right-clicking is already assigned to making fine adjustments, Control-clicking (on the PC or Mac) opens a small dialog box in which you can either assign a MIDI Control Change (CC) message from a drop-down menu or enable Learn mode. To make an assignment in Learn mode, simply click on Learn and move a control.
Officially, the minimum CPU requirement for CS-80V is a 500 MHz Mac or PC, but I'd aim a bit higher. Although the software ran fine on my dated Celeron 1 GHz notebook, even at low latency, it pushed the CPU meter high enough that I would be skeptical of using it with a lesser processor. On my Athlon XP 2500+ desktop, performance was no issue. I've seen worse CPU hogs, but CS-80V is no lightweight.
Arturia had the foresight to allow the user to disable the chorus and delay effects, saving around four percent of the CPU load on my desktop computer. You can also disable the filters if you're not using them, saving a percent or two.
THE SAME, ONLY DIFFERENT
The sound of the original CS-80 is beefy, rich, and active. Between the ring modulator, suboscillator, effects, and keyboard-response controls, shaping static sounds is almost more challenging than creating sounds that blossom and develop. Arturia captured the evolving character of CS-80 sounds, and the additions of an arpeggiator and the ability to sync the LFO to MIDI are natural extensions of the original instrument's restless personality.
In the interest of science, I took CS-80V to the Audio Playground Synthesizer Museum to compare it directly with the genuine article. Because the CS-80 doesn't support MIDI, I couldn't load identical parameters into both, so making precise comparisons wasn't easy. I started with the factory Presets, which offer the presets of the original CS-80, according to Arturia. Some of them sounded similar, but none of them matched very closely. In fairness, it is difficult to say exactly how closely two CS-80s would match each other after so many years.
Using the factory Presets as a starting point, I began programming my own sounds. I stripped away everything but the raw waveforms to see how close the starting points would be, and the family resemblance got a bit stronger. As I compared filters, envelope generators, and every other parameter, I was never able to get an exact match.
You can't miss the similarities, however, between the CS-80 and its virtual counterpart. Think of Frank Sinatra at age 30 compared with age 50: each is objectively different, yet they are both unmistakably Frank. I can't say that the CS-80V sounded exactly like the CS-80 that I compared it with; there were times when I liked the sound of each better than the other. The original often had a thicker core sound than the emulation, but once you start using CS-80V's Multi mode, that advantage will be reduced if not eliminated.
Many of CS-80V's 400 or so Presets use Multi mode to good advantage. Those Presets are generally excellent and give you a good idea of the instrument's character and power. Note that switching to 96 kHz operation improved the overall sound of CS-80V, making everything a bit smoother, especially sounds with long releases.
Arturia's software emulates the Yamaha CS-80 closely enough that it's worth not having to maintain and move the original. The museum's CS-80 has not been fully restored, so it suffers from a noticeable hum — another point in favor of the virtual version. When you consider that functioning CS-80s are scarce and most musicians couldn't afford one, whether to buy CS-80V is an easy decision.
Brian Smithersteaches at Full Sail Real World Education and Stetson University. Thanks to Joseph Rivers and the Audio Playground Synthesizer Museum (www.keyboardmuseum.org) for access to their CS-80.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: G3/500 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Mac OS 9.x or OS X 10.2
PC: Pentium II/500 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.5VALUE4.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Great sound. Support for many different audio engines and plug-in formats. Highly MIDI-controllable, including MIDI Learn function. Intuitive design. Multi mode allows layering and keyboard splits. Clear, detailed manual in English, French, and Japanese.
CONS: Controls are too small to read clearly. Makes moderately heavy demands on CPU.