The world of music production has seen a shift in recent years from keyboards and sound modules to soft synths and samplers. These days, what once required an arsenal of hardware can be reproduced by this new generation of software instruments. With so many different options available on the market, developers and manufacturers are striving to top each other and make their products stand out above the crowd. Sonik Synth 2 is the newest collaboration between sample-library developer Sonic Reality and IK Multimedia, maker of the legendary SampleTank. Billed as a “plug-in synth workstation,” Sonik Synth 2 incorporates the depth of an impressive 8.4GB sample library with comprehensive editing features and myriad effects and represents a serious effort at creating an all-in-one synthesis solution for musicians and sound designers alike.
SS 2 is a polyphonic, multitimbral, sample-based instrument that is both Mac- and PC-compatible, and it can be used with most current digital audio workstations, including Steinberg Cubase SX and Nuendo, Apple Logic Pro and Pro Express, Digidesign Pro Tools, MOTU Digital Performer, Cakewalk Sonar and so on. The package I received contained a user manual, an installer CD and a two-DVD set of sounds.
The sample library, compiled by Sonic Reality, features samples from more than 70 different synthesizers, including some rare and unique instruments as well as the industry-standard selections from Moog, ARP, Oberheim and Roland. The library, which comprises more than 5,000 sounds, is so large that in six lengthy sessions, I felt like I had barely explored the extent and variety that is available. Just scrolling through the list of presets is a bit overwhelming — the preset list in the PDF manual is 76 pages long! A PDF installation manual on the installer CD includes information on system requirements, installation and authorization, so you will probably want to give that a look before you get started. It takes a while to load the sound library onto your system (nearly 22 minutes on my Mac G4/1GHz running Mac OS 10.3.8 with 1 GB of RAM), which gives you some time to peruse the provided user manual and familiarize yourself with the features at your command.
After installing the software and sound library, I started up Logic Pro and opened Sonik Synth 2 on an audio-instrument channel. The interface is laid out in a user-friendly format that will be familiar to most soft-synth users. SS 2 resembles a synthesizer with a miniature seven-octave keyboard at the bottom, a control section in the center with virtual knobs and buttons to adjust both the synth settings and the effects parameters, and a large blue Browser/Mix window at the top containing instrument and patch information. The keyboard section has pitch and mod wheels as well as octave selectors (±2) and a Zone button. The Zone control allows for specific control of samples that are mapped across the keyboard — for instance, changing only the decay of a hi-hat within a drum kit. The effects section has controls for volume; pan; portamento time; and mono, poly and legato modes, as well as eight knobs that correspond to the five selectable effects per patch. There are 32 different effects available, including reverb, dynamics, filter/EQ, distortion and modulation. The control parameters for the eight effects knobs vary depending on which effect is highlighted in the effects list. For example, loading Reverb brings up corresponding controls for Time, Color, Density, Size and Level while the remaining three unused knobs are blank. Some important features that I found to be particularly useful within the effects section are tempo sync for time-based effects, MIDI control for effects parameters and the convenience of settings that are saved with each individual patch.
The Synth Edit section, just above the effects controls, also contains eight virtual knobs that change function depending on what button in that section is highlighted. To the left of the knobs are buttons for LFOs 1 and 2 as well as ENV 1 (amplitude envelope) and 2 (pitch and filter envelope). On the right side are buttons labeled Filter (selectable lowpass, bandpass and highpass with 6, 12 or 24dB slope), Synth, Vel and Macro. Most of these controls will be familiar to most experienced synth users, and I had no difficulty maneuvering through the various parameters and was busy manipulating patches in no time. The only unique controls that require some special attention are the Macro and Synth buttons. The functions of the Macro button change with the patches; for example, on the Solo Viola patch, the button selects and activates control of four of the synth control knobs: Attack, Release, Cutoff and Tuning. The Synth button allows users to select which synth-engine type they want to use to modify the base samples: Resampling; Pitch-Shift/Time-Stretch; and SS 2's proprietary STRETCH engine, which stands for SampleTank Time Resynthesis Technology. According to the user manual, STRETCH enables complete control of tempo, pitch and harmonics of samples and allows for glide, bending, staccato and vibrato without “chipmunking” or other artifacts traditionally associated with samplers.
THICKEN IT UP
The true power and flexibility of Sonik Synth 2 makes itself evident when you begin to examine the instrument layering. The hierarchy of the Library window is fairly simple and should be self-explanatory for users familiar with any multi-instrument synths. The top level lists the categories of preset banks: Synths, Keyboards, Guitar+Bass, Drums+Perc, Brass+Winds, Orch Textures, Vocal Textures, SFX, Elements A and Elements B. Clicking on the triangle icon next to one of these names will display the list of parent patches beneath, and the triangle icon for each parent will subsequently reveal the one or more child patches, which contain the individual sample sounds. The parent patches have names such as DronePad, Bad Bass, Blue Grand and Doctor Rock Kit, which hopefully will give you some idea of what is in store when you load the patch.
The Synths category contains five subcategories: Motion Synths, Synth Pads, Synth Bass, Synth Leads and Misc Synths. I started in the Motion Synths folder, and the first parent patch I double-clicked on, 003-Evo Bubble, really grabbed my attention. As I held down a chord, I heard a lot of tonal modulation, with elements panning around and new bits floating in and out the longer the notes were sustained. The reverb and delay that automatically loaded up with the patch sounded nice and rich, and this definitely got me excited to delve further into the depths of the preset menu. Next up were the Synth Pads, and they did not disappoint. I went through quite a few of the 79 parent patches under the Analog Synth Pads and really liked what I heard. The samples were obviously recorded with great care, the sound quality is excellent, and a wide range of timbres is available.
I am a huge fan and proponent of big, dirty bass lines in dance records, so I was interested to see how the samples in the Synth Bass section would hold up to my standards. After trying out the first 20 or so patches, I was truly impressed by the tonal quality and variety. Admittedly, I didn't come across anything quite as gritty or tough as my old-school Korg MS-20, but I have never heard a sample or soft synth that can get that nasty (even the Korg Legacy). That comparison aside, I was really into the sounds, and the presets are quite versatile.
The layering of patches was easy; all I had to do was click on an open part on the Mix (left) side of the window on the interface, which highlights the part, and then click on my choice of parent or child patches from the Browser (right) side of the window. Once the patches are loaded into the parts, you can control MIDI channel, solo, mute, polyphony, pan, volume and output selection. The Mix window also displays how much RAM is being used by each part and has real-time metering of the output levels. The Mix window shows eight parts at a time, with as many as 16 parts per Combi-Preset possible, though you will need a seriously fast computer to test that out.
Overall, I was really impressed by the quality of all of the samples, particularly the organic instruments: The violin, viola and cello all sounded quite realistic, and with the addition of some reverb in the effects section, I had a nice concert quartet together in no time. I also liked the pianos, which I find to be difficult to reproduce with accuracy and realistic action. The acoustic drum kits I played with had great imaging, and there is an extensive selection to choose from, in addition to a wide variety of percussion. Complementing the “real” drum sounds is a solid collection of analog drum machines, including Roland's classic TR-808, TR-909 and CR-78 and Simmons and Casio drums. The sound library is rounded out with brass; winds; vocal samples; synth effects and hits; drum and percussion loops; and the Elements folders, which contain raw synth waveforms and other building blocks to help you develop wonderful, complex, interesting and unique patches of your own. The more that I dug into SS 2, the more I found to like, and I look forward to utilizing this powerful instrument and exploring all that it has to offer. SS 2 is going be an outstanding addition to my audio arsenal.
SONIK SYNTH 2 > $399
Pros: Excellent samples. Extensive, diverse sounds. Powerful layering capabilities. Built-in effects. Easy-to-use interface. Friendly tech support.
Mac: G4/667; 512 MB RAM; Mac OS 10.2.8; 8.4 GB available hard-drive space; VST-, Audio Units — or RTAS-compatible host
PC: Pentium III/733; 512 MB RAM; Windows 2000/XP; 8.4 GB available hard-drive space; DX-, VST- or RTAS-compatible host