The Patchman Turbo VL replaces the stock voice ROM in the Yamaha VL70-m with lots of beautiful patches, many with exquisite breath response.
As a MIDI wind player, I've always loved the Yamaha VL-series synths for their highly expressive sounds that can be exquisitely shaped with breath pressure. However, the stock ROM sounds in the half-rack VL70-m are rather wimpy compared with those of its 3-rackspace cousin, the VL1-m. Too bad, because the VL70-m is much easier to take to gigs.
So I was really glad to learn that Patchman Music, a sound-programming company that specializes in breath-controlled patches, offers a ROM chip called the Turbo VL ($295), which is full of new sounds for the VL70-m. It comes with detailed instructions on how to remove the module's cover plate, remove the stock ROM, and insert the new chip. In my case, the stock chip seemed to be stuck and wouldn't budge, even when I used a fancy chip puller, so I took it to a local electronics repair shop, where the swap was easily accomplished.
The patches are logically organized by instrumental family, starting with the brasses. These sounds are generally more realistic than their counterparts in the stock ROM, though they're still not going to fool anyone into thinking they're the real acoustic thing.
Some of the trumpets are excellent, especially in the higher registers. The piccolo trumpet sounded great on the “Penny Lane” solo. I didn't like the muted trumpets as much, except for the Harmon mute, which sounded just like Miles Davis. Being a trombone player, I'm particularly critical of low-brass sounds, and the trombones in the Turbo VL are not all that convincing. I enjoyed the French horns much better, and the tuba is nearly as fat and sonorous as the VL1 version, which I use all the time.
The VL1 saxes are among my favorite sounds on that instrument, but some of the Turbo VL saxes on the VL70-m are not quite as pleasing to me — they have a rougher quality that I just didn't like. A couple of exceptions are the Sanborn and Bird altos, and playing “Take Five” on the Desmond alto was a joy. I liked the tenor saxes better overall, especially NY Tenor and MBrecker, and the Jobim tenor was great for playing “Wave.”
None of the flutes sound particularly realistic, but they are very pretty nonetheless. ClassFlt is my fave, and the bass flute is also very nice. I also really enjoyed playing “El Condor Pasa” on the quena, a traditional Andean flute.
The clarinets are really good, just as they are on the VL1. The Turbo VL bass clarinet is a little more synthetic sounding than on the VL1, but still very useful. Likewise, the double reeds are generally very nice; I especially liked SftEngHn, which sounded great on the theme from Bolero.
Bowed strings have never been my faves on the VL1, and my opinion is no different here. However, the pizzicato string section is quite convincing. Of course, pizz strings do not respond to breath, nor do the other plucked strings in this ROM, which includes plenty of guitars. Some sound quite authentic, but I didn't find them as much fun to play as breath-responsive sounds. One exception is GuitHero, which changes volume and distortion in response to breath; it made me feel like a stadium rocker. It was also great fun to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the Hendrix patch.
The keyboard sounds, such as Clavinet, also do not respond to breath, which makes them less fun to play with a wind controller. One exception is Jazz B3, which changes volume in response to breath and sounds pretty authentic.
One of the most useful sound groups for wind players is basses, and the Turbo VL has plenty of very realistic examples. Of course, most of them do not respond to breath, but as with the keyboards and plucked strings, that's the nature of the sound. Many of the basses sustain as long as you apply breath, which is a bit unrealistic, although they do respond to Velocity, which helps them sound more authentic.
Finally, there is a good selection of purely synthetic sounds, which are uniformly beautiful. My faves include Avalana (a very smooth, pretty sound), ZawiLead (a classic Zawinul patch), LuckyMan (from the ELP song of the same name), and Lyle (as in Mays).
All in all, the Turbo VL is a huge improvement over the stock ROM sounds of the VL70-m. It's relatively expensive, but if you play that sound module using a wind controller, you owe it to yourself to upgrade as soon as you can.
Value (1 through 5): 4