ReFX offers a diverse and unique range of VST Instrument (VSTi) plug-ins that use standard subtractive-synthesis techniques as well as newer techniques, such as wave shaping and physical modeling. The plug-ins are sold separately, with prices ranging from free to $59.99.
All of reFX's products are obtained by download, and you receive Mac (OS 9 and OS X) and Windows (98/98 SE/2000/ME/XP) versions of every plug-in you buy. Time-limited demo versions (which require you to relaunch the VST host after 15 minutes) and MP3 audio examples are available from the reFX Web site.
JunoX2 ($39.99) is a 16-voice emulation of the Roland Alpha Juno, the last of the popular Juno series of inexpensive synths. It's simple to program and has a raw, biting sound that will be most at home in techno and pop genres. JunoX2 has two multi-waveform oscillators tuned to the same pitch, and a suboscillator tuned one or two octaves below the others. The oscillator mix is fed into a multimode resonant filter. JunoX2's single ADSR envelope can modulate volume, pulse width, and filter frequency in any mix and polarity.
Beast ($29.99) features parallel signal paths, each containing two oscillators, a resonant filter, and a distortion unit. Each oscillator's waveform is a mix of triangle, sawtooth, and pulse waves; an LFO is provided for pulse-width modulation. The mixed output of both signal paths passes through a feedback delay-line followed by a reverb unit. Beast is a simple beast, but it's capable of fat, synthlike sounds, as the bank of factory presets amply illustrates. To get a free taste of Beast, download its little brother, Claw (short for “one claw of the beast”).
ReFX's other classic is the QuadraSID ($59.99), based on the SID 6581 and 8580 synthesizer chips found in the Commodore 64 line of computers. Unlike the other reFX synths that emphasize simplicity and limit front-panel controls to the essentials, QuadraSID gives you access to every parameter on the SID chips. Each virtual SID chip contains three complete 1-oscillator synths as well as a noise generator. The three synths can operate in three modes: unison (all three play each note), poly (notes cycle consecutively through the three synths), and multi (each synth has its own MIDI channel). The noise generators are capable of a wide range of effects. Altogether you get 12 synth voices and 4 noise voices with a variety of MIDI configurations. QuadraSID programming can get quite complex, but with all voices activated, QuadraSID is surprisingly easy on your CPU. As you might imagine, given its heritage, QuadraSID excels at cheesy effects and retro video-arcade sounds. However, it is also good for vintage drum-machine and synth sounds.
My Favorite Things
Aside from QuadraSID, which is in a class all its own, my favorite reFX synths are PlastiCZ ($59.99) and Slayer ($59.99). PlastiCZ is a 2-oscillator, no-filter synth that lets you morph between a sine wave and 1 of 64 other waveshapes, using an ADSR envelope and Velocity. The oscillators can be fine-tuned by a semitone as well as offset to the first four overtones of the base frequency. A mix of the two oscillators and a ring-modulated combination of both is sent to one of ten effects, including reverb, delay, gate, chorus, phase, flange, distortion, bit reducer, Leslie, and a moving-formant-filter effect called Talkbox. The waveform morphing (called Digital Controlled Wave-shaping), the absence of filters, and the wide range of effects give PlastiCZ a fresh and unique sound.
Slayer (see Fig. 1) does everything you could ask of a guitar synth. It starts with 7 variations of a Karplus-Strong physically modeled guitar string, adds 3 pickup options (none, single, and double-coil) with variable position, and ends with 16 amp and cabinet combinations and 15 stompbox-style effects. Front-panel controls are provided for tone, Velocity-controlled slap, fret noise, harmonic brightness, and string damping. Playing aids (incoming MIDI processors) include strumming, power chords, auto-chording, and fixed and dynamic glide. Slayer excels at electric guitar and bass sounds, but is also capable of tasty emulations of acoustic guitars, basses, and other plucked-string instruments.
Best of Show
The MP3 file MrMorse illustrates the variety of sounds available from reFX synths. The piece was recorded in one pass, using instances of QuadraSID, PlastiCZ, Beast, and Slayer.
ReFX also offers a distortion and filtering VST effect, Trasher II ($19.99), which is capable of lightly massaging or totally mangling your audio material (including the output of the reFX synths). Whatever your musical tastes, you're bound to find something you'll like in the reFX catalog. These plug-ins are easy on the wallet as well as the CPU, well documented, and definitely unusual.
Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4