Review: Arturia Matrix 12V

One of the last of the classic analog synths, reborn on your desktop
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Since my time at Splash Studios in New York City, I coveted the sounds emanating from keyboardist/ sound designer Robby Kilgore’s room—unmistakably fat and powerful, with bass, brass, and pads of great depth and complexity. Most often, these sounds could be traced to Kilgore’s Oberheim Expander, dubbed “The Badger” by keyboardist Rob Schwimmer because of its deep, but sometimes confounding programming layout.

Not long after creating the Expander, Oberheim turned out its direct descendant, the Matrix 12, which added a keyboard and doubled the polyphony. The Matrix 12’s sonic capabilities far outstripped those of its analog contemporaries, but due to the incursion of digital instruments, the instrument soon disappeared from the marketplace.

Fortunately, Arturia—long known for its virtual resurrections of vintage synthesizers—has released the Matrix 12 V, providing VST 2.4, VST 3, AAX, and Audio Unit versions (see Figure 1). I tested the Matrix 12 V on a 2 x 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, running OS X Yosemite 10.10.02 with 14GB RAM. Installation and authorization are now handled by the Arturia Software Center, which automates and significantly simplifies the process, and keeps your plug-ins updated in the bargain.

WAVE HELLO

As with the original synth, part of the Matrix 12 V’s distinct timbral stamp is the two VCOs, both furnishing pulse, saw, and triangle waves, with VCO 2 adding noise. You can enable any or all of the waveforms at once, and each VCO has its own volume settings and a VCA. You can add subtle motion, grit, or metallic, inharmonic sidebands with the FM section, which is hard-wired, utilizing VCO 2 as modulator for VCO 1 or the filter.

The oscillators share a common filter that has no fewer than 15 filter modes—all with resonance controls. The list includes lowpass filters with four different slopes, three highpass filters, a couple of notch and bandpass filters, and most notably, filters that combine modes such as “2notch + 1Low” and a couple of phase filters, one of which is combined with a lowpass filter.

Lamentably, Arturia’s manual makes no effort to detail these; however, downloading the manual for the original Matrix 12 keyboard reveals that the phase filter passes all of the VCO harmonics, but changing its frequency control shifts the phase of the harmonics. Rightly, both the Arturia and Oberheim manuals suggest that the user should experiment in order to get a feel for the capabilities of these filters. I was able to create some exotic-sounding pads using these filters; they add more sonic variety than any analog synth I’ve used, virtual or otherwise.

The Matrix 12 V’s bank of factory sounds— devoid of effects—provide a fine demonstration of the instrument’s impressive sonic signature. Nonetheless, the effects—delay, analog delay, analog chorus, phaser, flanger, and reverb—add a nice finish.

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HAT TRICKS FROM THE MATRIX

The Mod page is a tweaker’s rabbit hole, and as with all of Arturia’s re-creations, the manufacturer goes beyond the original feature set. To begin with, it doubled the number of modulation assignments to forty. Arturia makes the task considerably less daunting by dividing the 12 V’s user interface into several pages. In reality, the instrument’s modulation matrix is a rather uncomplicated affair, with a pop-up menu that provides an orderly layout of 14 sources, 15 destinations, and a control to set the modulation amount.

The list of modulators includes five DADSR envelopes, five LFOs, a lag processor (to smooth values), a tracking generator, and a ramp generator, and these can serve as auxiliary envelopes. Any destination can accommodate up to six modulation sources. For example, if you want modulators to modulate other modulators that modulate destinations, go ahead: The 12 V can handle it easily.

Among other features that distinguished the original Matrix 12 from its analog contemporaries were its unique multitimbral capabilities. The Matrix 12 V’s Voice page lets you split, layer, detune, or assign individual voices to different MIDI channels. On top of that, there are some exciting and unique features here that may not be readily apparent.

DISAPPEAR INTO THE MATRIX

There are scads of features that help the Arturia Matrix 12 V stand out from other virtual analog synths, a few of which I’ve discussed here. By far, the instrument’s strongest point is its sound, which is in a class by itself.

By turns, Matrix 12 V can sound raunchy, mysterious, gauzy, or creamy. Some of the instrument’s pads are among the most majestic I’ve ever heard, laced with subtly shifting tonal undercurrents. During the course of the review, I found it difficult to tear myself away from playing and programming the instrument: That’s the most ringing endorsement I can give it. Go to Arturia’s site, download the demo, and enter the Matrix.

STRENGTHS

Accurate re-creation of Oberheim Matrix 12. Extensive modulation capabilities. Great selection of filters. Voices page offers unique performance capabilities.

LIMITATIONS

Occasionally sketchy documentation.

$169 street
arturia.com

Former Electronic Musician editor Marty Cutler is twisted in his own right.

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Heavy Rotation: Robby Kilgore on the Matrix Architecture

The Voices page: Note Zone, Transpose, and Mode parameters along the top.The voice architecture of the Oberheim Xpander was revolutionary (and, in many ways, still is). What first fascinated me about the instrument was a feature I had never seen on any other synthesizer.

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Each of the Xpander’s voices could be assigned to one of three zones. In turn, each of the three zones could use a different strategy for how voices are assigned. I’m sure the designer’s primary intention was to allow you to split the keyboard and have up to three different sounds being triggered simultaneously. But, for me, the cool thing was that you could assign some of the voices to a zone and make individual voices in that zone rotate through different MIDI note transpositions. It was a bit like creating an “open-tuning keyboard.”

Here’s how to set it up. (This works well on a nice, spitty brass patch, but in general, any sound with a reasonably fast attack and decay will do). Navigate to the Voices page, which is accessed from the top left corner of the plug-in; just below its header (see screen shot above). You’ll be working in the Zone and Transpose (Trans) parameter windows on the left, and within the Mode parameters on the right.

You only need two Zones—one set to retrigger (tuned in fifths), the other to rotate. You want Zone 1 always to play two voices for every one note. Assign two voices to Zone 1, with the first voice set to one of the Unison modes. The first voice remains transposed to 0, and the second, transposed to +7 (seven semitones; a perfect fifth). If you play a C with just the two voices in that Zone enabled, you’ll hear C and G together.

For Zone 2, you set four voices to Rotate, and pick a semitone transposition for each. In this case, I’ve chosen -8, -5, -7, -1. Now, each time you play a C, you will hear a G and an additional note that changes each time you re-strike the key. In this case, the resulting chords would be DCG, FCG, ECG, and BCG—all from striking a single note. Now that you know how to set up the rotation scheme, it’s up to you to experiment.
—Robby Kilgore