FIG. 1: Emulator X2''s Voice Processing page provides access to many powerful sound-programming options. The interface, shown here with the Tree view on the left, is clean and well laid out.
E-mu has released Emulator X2, a major update to its high-end Emulator software sampler. Among the new features in X2 are the ability to use the software with any third-party audio interface, automated hardware-device sampling, custom modulation control sources, and a host of powerful sound-design features.
Unlike the original Emulator X sampler, which required one of E-mu's professional audio interfaces, X2 requires only the included Xmidi 2×2 USB MIDI interface to run. That means you can use it with any audio interface you choose. You can also purchase X2 in an add-on version if you already own an Xboard USB MIDI series controller or any of the full range of E-mu audio interfaces. At a list price of $399 for the Xmidi version, X2 is among the least expensive of the major Windows software samplers (Steinberg HALion 3 lists for $399, Native Instruments Kontakt 2 is $449, and Tascam GigaStudio is $599, for example).
We covered the original Emulator X in the February 2005 issue of EM (available online at www.emusician.com), so after a quick overview, I'll focus on the main features of the X2 version. I'll also give a preview of the forthcoming Platinum upgrade, which should be released around the time you read this (see the sidebar “Go for the Platinum”).
Emulator X2 is modeled on the sound engine in E-mu's highly regarded Emulator hardware, which has been under continuous development since the early 1980s. The software version provides a vast number of professional sampling features, and unlike many other software samplers, it actually samples (stereo only, however). X2 has a host of options for tweaking your recordings, such as the ability to detect individual, isolated hits within a single recording and convert them into multiple samples. Once the file is split into samples, X2 will automatically build presets that use them. It will also automatically normalize each sample and detect and eliminate silence at the beginning of a recording. You can use the same set of features on any sound file (WAV and AIFF) that you load from disk.
FIG. 2: The Beat Analysis tool does an excellent job of detecting even minor tempo changes in a sample. Note the changes shown at the beginning of measures 2, 3, and 4.
Emulator offers a vast number of sound-programming options, many of which are found in the Voice Processing page (see Fig. 1). Voices are the components that make up Presets, and you can have as many Voices in a Preset as you want. The Voice Processing page provides access to a large number of filter settings and filter presets, as well as to the LFOs and new function generators (more on those in a moment). You'll also find glide and chorus controls and effects and aux settings in this screen.
The Voice Processing page is home to the modulation matrix, where you assign up to 36 Cords (automation pathways) to connect a modulation source to a destination. Each Cord has an Amount control that lets you further tweak the interaction. Equally useful are the Modulation Processors, which allow even greater manipulation of the source data before it reaches its destination. Using the Quantizer, for instance, you could turn a smooth, continuous control signal like an LFO into a quantized, stepped pattern. Other Processors let you mix, offset, amplify, invert, or perform a variety of transformations to your data.
Emulator retains one archaic feature from its hardware days. Rather than providing a MIDI Learn option to assign an external MIDI control source to a parameter directly, it requires you to first assign the external source to an internal routing system, which uses the labels MIDI A through MIDI P for the routing pathways. You then assign one of the internal MIDI sources to the desired destination (a number of routings are set by default). Even then, there's no option to let Emulator autodetect the external source (some software will detect and assign a control source if you simply move the hardware slider or knob that you want to use). But you can save the mappings for use across all your banks, and if you don't change the hardware source of the controller messages, then the routing setup is a one-time deal.
One of the advantages that many software samplers have over hardware devices is the ability to layer multiple presets on a single MIDI channel. Using the Links function, you just drag as many individual presets as you want from the Tree view on the left of the screen to the work area on the right, and they will all trigger when you play a note on the current channel. This lets you build huge, multilayered sounds with very little effort. You can tweak volume, pan position, and coarse and fine tuning for each preset, and if you use the same preset multiple times, you can quickly build chorused sounds by simply altering the tuning of each layer.
Twist and Shout
X2's new TwistaLoop feature is intended primarily for people doing beat-oriented music, but it has the potential for more-esoteric sound-design applications as well. TwistaLoop analyzes a sample and provides a tempo map of the pulses, then allows you to transform individual notes, beats, or entire measures (see Fig. 2). There are a large number of settings you can adjust to produce good results for many different types of material, though like other tools of its ilk, TwistaLoop works best with music that has clear transients.
Once the sample is analyzed, you can set an unlimited number of loop points within it (in the previous version, you could have only one loop per sample). From there, the sky's the limit: you can jump from any loop to any other while playing back by simply selecting the loop number from a drop-down menu or assigning loop regions to specific keys or MIDI controllers on your keyboard. Other TwistaLoop features, well covered in an online tutorial, let you override the individual tempos of multiple loops and conform them to a single master tempo or change pitch without changing tempo. Individual loop regions can be edited (reversed, time-stretched, or faded, for instance), and you can configure even more playback parameters once you create a preset around your sample.
TwistaLoop did an excellent job of analyzing the beats in the examples I threw at it, even detecting very slight tempo changes within a single measure. On my 3.7 GHz Pentium 4 machine, a 12-second loop took less than 10 seconds to be analyzed, though times will vary depending on what settings are used for the beat analysis.
Swipe a Sound
If you own a lot of synth hardware, you'll appreciate the new SynthSwipe feature. SynthSwipe will send out a series of MIDI Note Ons to trigger your external devices, then record the sound generated by each trigger in sequence. You determine how long each Note On lasts, whether SynthSwipe will record every note or only some interval that you choose (every perfect fourth or fifth, for instance), the duration (in seconds) between notes, and the Velocity level for each trigger. Press Record, and then SynthSwipe takes over.
As cool as that is, though, SynthSwipe works only with the currently loaded program — an option to send out 128 Program Changes and record all the sounds in a bank would be even niftier. And the ability to transmit a Bank Select message would allow you to grab everything in your synth at once. Of course, once you get comfortable with X2, you might consider unloading all that hardware.
Talkin' 'Bout My Generators
In addition to its two multishape LFOs, X2 provides three new user-programmable multifunction generators that you can use as modulation sources for any available destination. You draw the shape you want the function to generate (up to 64 steps), then apply a variety of controls including speed, direction, and sync method (Key, Free Run, or Channel) to tweak the data before it reaches its destination (see Fig. 3). You can also determine whether the function's output adds to, subtracts from, or alternately adds to and subtracts from the value of the destination it is intended for.
FIG. 3: Using the new multifunction generators, you can draw control data for use with any modulation destination. A variety of controls are available to tweak the data before it reaches its destination.
Convolution is all the rage these days, and X2 gets into the game with its Transform Multiply feature. Though there's only a single parameter (Intensity) to adjust, you can use TM to impose the room ambience of a real space onto a recording of your choice or convolve any two audio files (a drum loop and a vocal sample) for cross-synthesis purposes. (See Web Clip 1 for an example of a montuno crossed with a dense piano cluster.) Simply copy all or part of a sample to the Clipboard, access a second sample, and click on Transform Multiply, and the deed is done. This is an area that I'd really like to see expanded.
X2's 328-page manual is mostly for reference purposes — it mentions a vast number of things the software can do but is not clear on how to do many of them. (Some usage tips are scattered throughout, though.) However, E-mu has recently released an Advanced Applications Guide that covers a wide range of common and more-creative tasks. The guide is a must-have if you want to get the most out of the software. But it would also be helpful if E-mu implemented some type of pop-up help system for the various buttons and knobs on the interface.
X2 ships with several sample libraries — more than 3 GB in all. Though you won't find some of the more advanced logic-driven programming features of megabucks libraries, such as automatically changing the selected sample based on what range of MIDI notes you are playing, there are a number of “intelligent” features built into the newer collections. As expected, many of the included libraries are aimed at popular contemporary styles (Hip Hop Producer and Beat Shop, for example), but you'll also find the entire 1,000-plus sounds from the Proteus 2000 tone module as well as many other esoteric offerings.
E-mu releases new collections on a regular basis — for example, most recently a 7 GB (with included 1 GB and 200 MB versions) grand piano, a small (2-CD-ROM) collection of historic instruments, and a 10 GB orchestral library (see the Sound Central area at E-mu's Web site for a complete list). You can also use the included sample conversion program to convert samples in SoundFont, GigaStudio, HALion, Akai, and other formats that you might have on hand.
I've been a longtime Kurzweil K2X00 user and must admit that I really had no intention of making the switch to a software sampler. But the ease of integrating X2 into my work flow, whether standalone or as a VST plug-in, was really too tempting to pass up. If you own a lot of synth or sampling hardware, the SynthSwipe feature can ease the transition to a soft environment, and even if you haven't worked with a lot of sampling hardware, you'll find X2 to be a very intuitive program.
Moreover, the ease with which you can alter the included sounds (or your own) is striking. With very little effort, I removed the pitched component from a piano multisample, leaving only the sounding-board element, which I proceeded to modify with several interacting multifunction generators (see Web Clip 2). The great-sounding filters and extensive set of sound-design features provide nearly unlimited potential for shaping your sounds, and the extensive modulation matrix offers enormous opportunities for creating evolving, time-varying sounds no matter what style of music you work with.
I did run into one rather serious issue when using X2 as a plug-in in Cakewalk Sonar 6.2: I was unable to get it to respond to Program Changes that were inserted into a sequence (Program Changes that I entered in the Track Properties field were sent when playback started). You can work around this by building a Multisetup in X2 and assigning each patch to its own channel, and then using multiple tracks in Sonar for each different part. (Cakewalk acknowledged that this is a problem with Sonar and says it expects to have it fixed in a future version.)
When E-mu released the first hardware sampler under $10,000 in 1981, no one could have foreseen an all-soft version appearing even in the most distant future. With the release of X2 and its very minimal hardware requirements, the cycle has been completed.
Associate Editor Dennis Miller is a composer and animator. Check out his work atwww.dennismiller.neu.edu.
GO FOR THE PLATINUM
E-mu's Emulator sampling engine continues its evolution with the forthcoming release of X2 Platinum. Platinum, which should be available by the time you read this, will provide a number of new features, such as streaming sample playback, multiprocessor support, and new beat-slicing options. A massive library containing more than 20 GB of sounds will be included with the release, along with a 64-bit version of Emulator X2.
E-MU Emulator X2
GUIDE TO EM METERS 5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
FEATURES4EASE OF USE4QUALITY OF SOUNDS4VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Large number of sound-design features. Intuitive sampling and sample-processing options. Several sample libraries included.
CONS: Inadequate documentation. SynthSwipe feature could be more efficient. No tool tips. No MIDI Learn feature.