For quite some time, a single player provided the most comprehensive music software bundle available—Native Instruments with Komplete and Komplete Ultimate. However, AIR Music Technology’s recent release, Advanced Music Production Suite (AMPS), has increased the competition in this arena. Of course, anyone who challenges the mighty Komplete has to really bring it on; for the most part, AIR Music Tech is up to the task.
Fig. 1. Reason 8’s revamped workflow and interface keep the original strategy intact, but let you access its powerful tools more quickly and easily. Onto a 500GB USB hard drive AMPS packs more than 70 titles that would sell for more than $5,000 if purchased separately (see Figure 1). Companies represented here include fabfilter, PSP, FXpansion, Waves, D16 Group, and iZotope, among many others. For example, Akai Pro chips in MPC Essentials, a self-contained beat production environment and plug-in host. While many of the products are several years old, they maintain their value and usefulness, as with the Way Out Ware Timewarp 2600 (a virtual ARP 2600) synthesizer and iZotope Stutter Edit.
The 33 virtual instruments, alone, justify the price of admission. AIR Music Tech’s contribution covers most of the essentials: Structure, a full-featured multi-timbral sampler; Strike, an excellent virtual drummer; Tranfuser 2, a mini-workstation for beat and groove construction; Velvet, an electric piano; and three synths—the Hybrid 3 analog and wavetable synth, Vacuum Pro with vacuum tube modeling, and Loom, an innovative additive synth.
Camel Audio’s Alchemy Player provides the same functionality as the full plug-in but with a reduced sample library and preset selection. The plug-in accepts non-proprietary SFZ-format samples, and you can find plenty of free content online to feed through Alchemy Player’s matrix of morphing capabilities. Of course, you can also add Camel’s own expansion packs.
Sonivox douses AMPS with a giant content library to go along with the 19 ROMpler-style instruments. These include guitar and bass instruments; Eighty Eight Ensemble, an authentic Steinway grand piano; and three comprehensive Orchestral Companion plugs—Brass, Strings, and Woodwinds. Sonivox also scores with the Big Bang Cinematic 2 drum and percussion instrument, as well as with its synths—the Wobble 2 and Twist 2 spectral morphing synthesizers blend two channels together with heavy emphasis on filter/LFO syncing and parameter morphing.
Fig. 2. More than your average vocoder, Sonivox Vocalizer Pro processes any audio you throw at it with several filter modules and stores parameter snapshots in eight pad slots for you to tap through dynamically. And what bundle would be complete without a vocoder? Vocalizer Pro resynthesizes any audio going into it (see Figure 2). Besides standard vocoding, it is excellent for reharmonizing audio and is one of the most improvisation-oriented vocoders I’ve seen. It has pads for saving snapshots of the plug-in’s huge array of processing and for saving keyboard chords. Playing into the plug-in while tapping through different pad settings is perfect for creating glitch-oriented music.
The included signal processing plug-ins strike a balance between meat-and-potato effects and wildly creative types, with a few mastering plugs mixed in, such as the Wave Arts Finalplug mastering compressor/limiter. Waves Renaissance Channel is an old favorite that combines EQ, compression, limiting, and gating in one package—essential for mixing as well as mastering.
PSP chips in two rack-modeled equalizers, McQ and RetroQ, while FXpansion adds the D.Cam Dynamics bundle. Three interesting D16 Group products—Syntorus analog chorus, Devastor multiband distortion, and Fazortan analog phaser—toe the line between essential and creative effects: All three sound authentically vintage. The all-purpose Wave Arts Masterverb can re-create almost any reverb type with impressive realism, and it scales well from subtle to huge.
Three creative delay units bring something new to the party. D16 Sigmund presents four independent delay lines, each with a multimode filter, overdrive, tremolo, two LFOs, and flexible routing. If that’s too much for you, just dive into the great presets. FXpansion Bloom starts with a stereo delay line with tape, analog, and digital modes and then adds a diffusion reverb algorithm, feedback effects, deep modulation options, step sequencers, reverse and ping-pong options, and more. Some of the more bizarre presets don’t even pass recognizable audio from your source but step straight into psycho freak-out territory.
Sonic Charge Permut8 stretches the limits of a delay plug-in, as well. It aims to decimate sound in the spirit of primitive processors. Starting with a 12-bit delay, a programmable step sequencer modulates the delay time, and various virtual analog components add saturation, limiting, and filtering.
Besides the nearly 200GB of soundware that come with the AIR and Sonivox instruments, AMPS also kicks in 16 collections from Prime Loops, some of them in construction kit form. These collections pay a lot of attention to drums (acoustic, synthetic retro, and synthetic modern) and lean toward various EDM styles (tech-house, dubstep, trap, electro, and drum & bass). You also get some all-purpose stuff like electric piano, pop guitar, and ambient pads.
A couple of collections like Arabic Vibez and Cinematic Moods were good efforts, but many of the bits sounded obviously synthy where truly authentic pieces would be acoustic. However, the cinematically oriented Heavy Impacts collection is definitely cool, as are some of the other oneshot and FX collections, like Monster Bass Shots, Dubstep SFX, and the one-shots in the EDM Essentials collection. My personal favorite has to be Rasta Vocals 2, just for that accent.
My biggest issue with AMPS is not about its many high-class components, but how it feels as a suite. The AMPS bundle doesn’t really gel together like a single product the way that the elephant in the room (Komplete) does. Obviously, many companies are represented here, but you don’t get consistency in the registration and set-up of all the products, nor consistent plug-in format support. Your best bet is to go with a 64-bit VST host, because all of the AMPS products support that; For AU, AAX, and RTAS, the number of compatible products is generous but far from complete. Also, it took several hours to go through the process of installing and registering everything.
Obviously, many different companies are represented here, and they all have their own quirks to their registration process, but it’s exhausting and a far cry from the one-product/one-registration process of Komplete. Just the extra steps of having to install everything to your computer’s hard drive first (on a Mac)—where space is likely at a premium—before transferring sound libraries to an external drive (rather than installing straight to an external drive) makes a big difference. Maybe AIR Music Tech can work on streamlining the process in the future.
BUNDLE OF JOY
AIR Music Tech bills AMPS as a “comprehensive collection… of software for creating, mixing and mastering your music,” and I can’t argue with that. It covers just about all the instrumental bases, from acoustic rock to orchestral/cinematic to almost any style of contemporary music, with synthetic drums for all genres.
Basic effects, creative effects, and mastering processors are all there. You don’t even need a DAW; if you want to use MPC Essentials to create your music, it will host the other AMPS programs as VSTs. Not only does AMPS fill in all the pieces of the production puzzle, some of these plug-ins could very well become your all-time favorites.
Well-rounded collection of synthesizers and sample-based instruments. Diverse collection of processors, from the necessary to the indulgent. Huge value compared to the price of individual products.
Can’t install sounds straight to an external drive (Mac). Setup process is laborious. Not enough AAX or RTAS support for Pro Tools users.