DiscoDSP's line of Windows VST plug-ins consists of three synthesizers ($99 each), a sampler ($99), and a mastering effects collection called FX ($99). Two bundles, Integral ($349) and Legacy ($299), are also available — Integral contains everything, and Legacy contains the three synths. I'll concentrate here on the synthesizers in the Legacy bundle; if you're considering one of the bundles, though, the sampler and effects are certainly worth the small difference in price.
Everything and More
Discovery 2.3 is the workhorse of the synth line. It comes with more than 3,500 presets, and it will import Nord Lead 2 patches. At its heart, Discovery is a classic analog-style 2-oscillator synth, to which has been added basic FM capability, a multimode filter, a bevy of effects, and advanced modulation options. But that's only one part of the story. Each Discovery preset can have as many as four completely independent layers, including separate modulation and effects settings. Layers can be toggled on and off in real time using MIDI Control Change messages. Furthermore, each layer can have two separate setups, which you can morph between using the MIDI Modulation Wheel and Velocity. Unfortunately, you can't turn off or control the amount of Velocity morphing.
Discovery's modulators include two LFOs: one doubles as an arpeggiator, and the other as an invertible attack-decay envelope. Effects include an auto-panner, a chorus-flange, a ping-pong delay, and a 32nd-note gate effect. Using different gate and arpeggiator settings for different layers can produce very complex and interesting rhythmic patterns (see Web Clip 1).
Out of the Night
Phantom 1.2 is a 4-operator FM synth that can import DX21, DX27, and DX100 patches. Each operator is a sine-wave oscillator, and there are eight operator configurations, which route operators either to the output or to modulate other operators. One of Phantom's more interesting quick tricks is to switch a preset's operator configuration, which almost always produces an interesting variation on the original sound. Furthermore, like Discovery, each preset has two separate setups that you can morph between using the MIDI Modulation Wheel.
Phantom features both FM and Phase Modulation (the method used in the famous Yamaha DX line of synths). In FM, the number and amplitude of generated sidebands is frequency dependent, which makes PM more even and controllable. Having both forms of modulation at your fingertips is a nice feature.
As is now common with virtual FM synths, Phantom expands the paradigm with a multimode filter as well as chorus, delay, and reverb effects. Phantom's only drawback is its awkward preset-management scheme, which is entirely host dependent (you can't change presets directly from the control panel, for example).
Scaling New Heights
Vertigo is the most sophisticated of the Legacy synths. It is an additive synth with advanced harmonic generation and resynthesis capabilities, including allowing you to import WAV audio files and BMP graphics files for resynthesis. And, like the other Legacy synths, you can morph between two setups of each preset. Morphing (as well as other parameters) can be controlled by envelopes with as many as 16 breakpoints and individual segment shapes.
Vertigo takes the management of partials in the additive waveform to new heights. First, there are two views: the typical bar chart view, called Partials, and a more powerful, Spectral view. The Partials view allows you to edit bars for amplitude, frequency offset, phase, and pan position for each partial in the waveform. The Spectral view allows you to create independent envelopes for each partial's amplitude and frequency. In other words, the Spectral view allows you to impart a dynamic contour on the additive waveform, and that is what is analyzed when importing WAV or BMP files.
In case you can't get what you want out of Vertigo's additive synthesis algorithm, there are dual multimode filters that can be configured in series or in parallel, a 128-band formant filter, and a multi-effects processor. Vertigo gives you so much to work with and such minute control that it can easily leave your head spinning (hence, the name), but the 173 factory presets are a great starting point and worth the price of admission in and of themselves.
All three synths in the Legacy bundle are worth a listen, and demos and audio examples are available from the discoDSP Web site. If I had to pick just one, it would clearly be Vertigo, but Discovery and Phantom have their own charms as well.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5