FruityLoops is one of the oldest contenders in the growing field of loop-oriented, all-in-one studio software. Unlike programs such as Sonic Foundry Acid, Ableton Live, and BitHeadz Phrazer (designed primarily for playing and manipulating audio loops), FruityLoops and its soul mates Sonic Syndicate Orion, Propellerhead Reason, Arturia Storm, and VirSyn TERA contain a variety of sound generators tied together by a step sequencer. FruityLoops has had a relatively long time to get it right, and its feature set puts it near the head of the pack.
FruityLoops 3.5 runs as standalone software and as a VST Instrument (VSTi) plug-in. It comes with a full complement of proprietary plug-in instruments ranging from standard-fare drum machines, samplers, and analog-style synths to off-the-wall entrants such as BeepMap (for turning images into sound) and Granulizer (for independent pitch and time shifting). FruityLoops also includes a robust array of effects processors.
If you can't find what you're looking for among those offerings, you can try one of FruityLoops' five additional, reasonably priced synth plug-ins (demos included), and you can use your favorite instrument and effects plug-ins in VSTi, VST, DXi, and DirectX formats.
FruityLoops comes in two versions: Pro and Full. The Full version adds controller automation and a piano-roll-style step-sequencer editor. Both versions provide ASIO support for low latency. (I used the Full version for this review.) Customers who buy the boxed retail Full version can purchase upgrades for life for $29. The boxed version also includes the DreamStation DXi software synth and 3,000 royalty-free loop samples.
Not surprisingly for software that offers an unlimited number of audio channels and sequencer tracks, FruityLoops can take a big bite out of your CPU. Nevertheless, my 700 MHz Pentium III laptop running Windows 98SE was easily able to handle ten or more tracks playing simultaneously. I used an Emagic EMI 2|6 USB interface with the latest ASIO drivers for audio, and I was able to get latency down to several milliseconds without audio breakup. When you do run out of gas, you can bounce some parts to a WAV file, which you can then import as a single FruityLoops track.
THE SAME, ONLY DIFFERENT
Although the implementation varies, all loop-oriented, all-in-one studio software programs contain the same basic components: one or more step sequencers for generating sequences of notes, sound generators for playing those sequences, a song sequencer for building songs from those sequences, and effects processors for manipulating the audio output. In some programs (including Orion and Storm), individual step sequencers are built in to the sound generators, whereas in others (such as TERA and FruityLoops), sound generators are assigned to the tracks of a single multitrack step sequencer. (Reason uses a combination of those approaches.)
The FruityLoops application window presents its global controls (menus, transport, pattern selector, display toggles, and MIDI recorder) across the top; its file browser along the left side; and its Step-Sequencer, Piano-Roll Editor, and Channel Settings windows in the center section (see Fig. 1). Everything in FruityLoops revolves around the Step Sequencer.
Each row in the Step Sequencer represents an audio channel with its own step sequence (which is called a Pattern). There is only one Step Sequencer in a FruityLoops Song, and it can have as many channels as you like, up to the limits of your RAM and CPU. Sound Generators are assigned to the individual channels as they are created, but they can later be changed. Because every sound (every program for every Sound Generator) is represented by its own channel strip, the number of channels can multiply rapidly. Image-Line has conveniently implemented display groups, and the menu at the lower left of the Step Sequencer is used to select which group is currently displayed.
Each channel strip contains knobs for pan and volume, an LED-button for mute and solo, a large rectangular button for opening the controls of the assigned Sound Generator and performing other context-menu functions, a channel activity display, and buttons (called Dots) for playing notes at 16th-note intervals. The Step Sequencer in Fig. 1 is configured for 16 16th notes grouped as 4 16th notes to the beat (indicated by a change in Dot color). The time signature can be reconfigured for as many as 64 16th notes per bar with any beat grouping. You can also change the resolution (96 ppqn by default) in a range from 24 to 768 ppqn.
In version 3.0, FruityLoops outgrew the limitations of step sequencing by introducing the Piano-Roll Editor, shown just below the Step Sequencer in Fig. 1. The Piano-Roll Editor can be applied to any Step-Sequencer row, and if you've already entered steps with the Dots, you can start by transferring them to the Piano-Roll Editor. You can enter notes with the mouse or by recording MIDI input in real time or step time. Once entered, notes can be moved, lengthened, quantized, and humanized as needed. One of the Piano-Roll Editor's slickest after-the-fact features is called Chop, which, as its name implies, allows you to chop the notes in a sequence according to the rhythmic template of another sequence.
In addition to allowing for longer sequences that are not forced to 16th-note quantization, the Piano-Roll Editor provides for chords, supports loading and saving of Standard MIDI Files as well as Fruity-format Score files, and offers a very clever scheme for creating pitch Slides between notes — even within chords. Both sequence formats also feature note-by-note control of pan, Velocity, filter cutoff, filter resonance, pitch shifting, and time shifting. As you can imagine, you can do quite a bit of damage to a rhythm loop with those controls. For an audio example, check out the MP3 file “SteadyEddie.”
Once you've created some Patterns (you can have as many as 999 of them), you need a way to put them together. That's where the Playlist comes in (see Fig. 2). The Playlist is an array of Cells whose rows correspond to Patterns and whose columns correspond to measures in the current Song's meter. Left-clicking on a Cell toggles the corresponding Pattern on at that point in the Song, and right-clicking toggles it off. (If you find that inconvenient, as I did, you can change FruityLoops' Preferences so that left-clicking toggles Cells on and off.) There's not much more to the Playlist than that. The one tricky point is that Patterns (automation and Piano-Roll sequences, for example) can be longer than a single Playlist Cell, in which case you turn the Cell on where you want the Pattern to start, then leave empty Cells for the duration of the Pattern.
Songs automatically loop, and the rightmost Playlist column that has a Cell turned on determines their lengths. You can move the loop start-point to allow for an introduction, but you can't change the end-point, which means you can't loop a small section of the song for editing. You can drag-select segments of the Song and rearrange them by cutting, copying, and pasting, but you can't actually drag them around. You can resize the Playlist, but you can't change its zoom level. You can click the Playlist label (or hit Backspace) to center the Playlist at the current Song playback position, but you can't set it to scroll automatically. In short, the Playlist has the features necessary to get the job done, but it is not the ripest fruit on the vine. Image-Line plans to revise the Playlist with the style and features of the Piano-Roll Editor in a future upgrade.
FruityLoops comes with a basic collection of built-in Sound Generators, and Image-Line offers several more as inexpensive add-ons. In addition, you can use anything in your kit of DXi and VSTi plug-in instruments. The same applies to effects; a good collection of built-in effects is provided, and DirectX 8 and VST2 plug-ins are supported.
Each Step-Sequencer channel includes a Generator and all of its settings. Most of the Generators produce sounds; two that don't are Layer (for layering multiple Generators) and MIDI Out (for sending MIDI to external objects such as the Windows built-in GM synth). All Generator settings are made in the Channel Settings window, which is opened by clicking the oblong Channel button in the Step Sequencer. The Channel Settings window has several tabs, the content of which varies with the Generator (see Fig. 3).
The Sampler (actually a sample player), a three-oscillator synth named 3xOsc, a kick-drum Generator named Fruity Kick, and the TS-404 bass-line synth (styled after the Roland TB-303) are FruityLoops' workhorse Generators. Four additional specialized Generators round out the set of free built-ins. BeepMap converts BMP format pictures to sounds and Granulizer performs granular sample resynthesis. Plucked (my personal favorite) uses the Karplus-Strong physical model of a plucked string and allows you to use any sample for the impulse driving the model. Slicer plays sliced-up beat loops produced by Image-Line's add-on BeatSlicer (see the sidebar “By the Slice”).
Two of the Channel Settings window tabs significantly expand the capabilities of the Step Sequencer. The INS tab (second from the left in Fig. 3) provides AHDSR envelopes and LFOs for controlling volume, pan, pitch, and the cutoff and resonance of an extra multimode filter. The FUNC tab (rightmost in Fig. 3) offers a tempo-synced panning delay and a versatile arpeggiator with built-in chord generator.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Once you've set up the Generators and Patterns, you'll undoubtedly want to add automation, set up MIDI control, include some effects processing, and save it all as audio. FruityLoops provides full-featured tools for each of those jobs.
You can record automation of almost any control (even tempo) as part of a Pattern. The recommended procedure is to devote a Pattern strictly to automation and toggle it on at the beginning of the Playlist. You can record automation using the mouse or incoming MIDI, and you can edit it after the fact in a dedicated Automation Event editor, which even includes an LFO for generating tempo-synced LFO-style automation. The one shortcoming of FruityLoops automation recording is that when you record new automation, any existing automation for the same controller is erased all the way to the end of the Pattern — ouch!
You can assign MIDI continuous controllers to most controls. There is an auto-learn function, but you can also set it up manually. The same MIDI continuous controller can be assigned to multiple FruityLoops controls, and you can easily map incoming values to control the amount and direction of the effect. That, for example, allows you to set up a MIDI controller to raise a filter's cutoff while lowering volume.
In the effects department, FruityLoops has a Master effects bus that applies to all Channels, as well as 16 individual FX buses that can be fed by individual Channels. Four Send buses are fed by a mix of all the FX buses. (Each FX bus has four Send controls.) Each of those 21 effects buses can hold up to four effects in series. FruityLoops has 33 built-in effects mostly devoted to filtering, compression, and delay. As I mentioned, you can also use your full kit of VST and DirectX 8 plug-in effects.
FruityLoops lets you render Songs and individual Patterns in WAV or MP3 format. WAV files can be Acidized for use in programs that support that format. FruityLoops 3.5 adds the handy ability to save all effects buses as separate files.
A couple of useful data-export options are also provided. Project Bones saves all Channel Settings (FST) and Score files (FSC), and Project Data saves all samples, waveshapes, and plug-in data in a separate folder. Finally, FruityLoops will compress your Song, with all relevant data, into a ZIP-format file.
IS IT FOR YOU?
FruityLoops is the deepest loop-generating step sequencer I've seen. If you're into loops and step sequencing, that alone is worth the price of admission. The included Generators sound good and provide plenty of material for basic loop construction. Some of the add-ons available from Image-Line, though reasonably priced, don't extend the sound palette as much as I'd like. If you plan to use FruityLoops as a primary tool, you will undoubtedly want to use some of the VSTi or DXi plug-ins in your kit. Aside from some automation limitations, all the plug-ins I tried worked without problems.
For total song creation, FruityLoops is adequate, but you'll probably want to move your FruityLoops loops to a digital audio sequencer at some point. FruityLoops' export options and its availability as a VSTi plug-in make that process fairly simple for whatever sequencer you choose. Given that Image-Line seems to add and refine features at a steady rate, FruityLoops looks like an unbeatable deal.
Len Sassocan be contacted through his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.
Minimum System Requirements
Pentium/200; 32 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP
BY THE SLICE
You probably won't get very far into loop sequencing before you'll find yourself wanting to do some beat slicing. Image-Line offers its BeatSlicer ($35) as a separate product, and FruityLoops contains a matching player, Slicer, for playing the proprietary BeatSlicer files. A BeatSlicer demo comes with FruityLoops, but instances of the Slicer Generator that use slices created with the demo are deleted when you save your Song. That almost makes BeatSlicer a must-buy when you buy FruityLoops.
Beat slicing is the process of identifying individual events or “hits” in an audio file (typically a beat loop). For example, if you have a kick-drum loop, each kick would be a hit. The purpose of beat slicing is twofold: it allows you to play the slices back individually to achieve a different tempo or order, and it allows you to process (pitch-shift or EQ, for example) each slice independently. Beat slicers do their magic by identifying transients in the sound file that, hopefully, correspond to the desired hits. They then allow you to delete, add, and move the slice points manually. Finally, they export the results in one of two ways: as a proprietary-format slice file that requires a matching player, or as individual audio files (one for each slice) with an accompanying MIDI file that corresponds to the timing of the slices. BeatSlicer utilizes the first method, and the matching player in FruityLoops is called Slicer.
In Fig. A, Slicer is shown with a BeatSliced file (on the right) and the automatically generated Piano-Roll file to play it. When the Piano-Roll sequence is included in a Pattern, the slices are triggered at the Song tempo. Moving a note horizontally in the Piano-Roll Editor changes the time at which the corresponding slice is triggered. Moving it vertically changes the slice that is triggered. All note-based FruityLoops controls (such as the controller lanes) can be applied as well.
Beat slicing is useful for more than just beat loops; any segmented audio material — speech, for example — is fair game. FruityLoops 3.5 contains a new Integrated Speech Engine that generates computerized speech files in a variety of voice types (from Giant Male to Munchkin) and styles (from singing to whispering). You type in the words, and FruityLoops synthesizes the speech. Speech files can be played in the Sampler, but when they are dragged to the Slicer they are automatically sliced into words by BeatSlicer. That technique was used for the speech in the MP3 file “SteadyEddie.”
$49 Pro Edition (download)
$99 Full Edition (download)
$149 Full Edition (boxed retail version)
FEATURES4.5EASE OF USE3.5AUDIO QUALITY4.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Easy to learn and use on a basic level. Very deep feature set. Convenient file-export options.
CONS: Playlist lacks user-friendly features and some functionality. Automation recording is destructive. Documentation is sparse for some features.