Iris's unique Spectrogram display (upper strip) sets it apart from other virtual instruments.
Iris takes a novel approach to synthesis; you can download a trial, but you’ll need some background on how the program works before you check it out—so read on.
A “3D” World Most music software deals with two dimensions: amplitude and time. Iris includes a Spectrogram display, in which the X-axis indicates time, the Y-axis represents frequency, and brightness corresponds to amplitude. This isn’t a new concept; iZotope RX 2, Adobe Audition, Steinberg Wavelab, and Roland’s R-Mix allow editing based on this kind of display so you can, for example, isolate the kick drum from a loop and remove it. However, applying this technique to an instrument is indeed something new.
Note that simply dragging across part of a waveform doesn’t fully exploit this type of display. So, Iris includes additional tools that resemble those found in paint programs—you can “lasso” a portion of the signal in only a specific frequency range, while encompassing a particular amount of time and volume level. You can also erase sections (for example, a particular range of harmonics), and move sections of the waveform. These tools can create conventional results, such as erasing a range of frequencies for filtering. But Iris can also warp traditional sounds in unique ways—like isolate an environmental sound’s tonal elements to create a tone you can play from a keyboard.
So while Iris uses samples, you can “get inside” the sample and modify it in ways that conventional samplers can’t do. As a result, your “oscillator” sounds are pretty much unlimited. Iris also includes a conventional “sub” oscillator (pulse, saw, sine, sine clean, pink noise, or filtered pink noise) that lets you, for example, establish a root note so sounds lacking an obvious tonal identity can have an “anchor.”
Synth Modules Oscillators notwithstanding, Iris employs a fairly traditional synth architecture. You can layer up to three samples with independent editing, as well as do splits. Modulation options include an ADSR amplitude envelope and multi-waveform LFO with tempo sync and restart options. The LFO can modulate pitch, amplitude, or pan, but no more than one destination simultaneously.
There’s a minimal effects collection: Distortion, Chorus, Delay, and Reverb, with a choice of Send or Master global effects modes. In Send mode, each sample has its own set of effect-send controls. Master mode precludes send effects, as all four effects are applied to the composite sound of the mixed samples. You’ll also find excellent MIDI learn and macro creation capabilities (ideal for live control), and a master section with 8-mode filter, ADSR envelope, global LFO, and host tempo sync; this is also where the Master Effects depth amount controls become operative if Master Mode is selected for the effects. There’s even a virtual keyboard.
Wrapping Up If you’re looking for a great virtual analog synth, that’s not what Iris is about; and it takes practice to learn how to obtain predictable results. But the reward is that you can create rich, deep, novel sounds that have no equivalent with other synths. (iZotope realizes not everyone is going to make their own sounds, so the 4GB sample library, 500 presets, and optional expansion packs are welcome.)
Tired of saying “been there, done that?” Give Iris a spin.
STRENGTHS: Unique synth technology and sounds. Generous sample library and useful presets. Excellent MIDI learn and macro creation capabilities.
LIMITATIONS: Difficult to get predictable results without scaling the learning curve.