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Review: Arturia V Collection 5 - EMusician

Review: Arturia V Collection 5

A vintage synthesizer studio in your computer
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Now up to Version 5, Arturia’s V Collection adds five new synthesizers and a revamp of Analog Lab to host and combine the virtual instruments. And by including Analog Lab 2, V Collection 5 (VC5) makes 17 instruments available in standalone, VST, and AU formats.

The suite’s overall improvements include a rebuilt audio engine and resizable graphical user interfaces. Browsers for all of the instruments are streamlined and easily customized. Analog Lab 2 is a nice rebuild that facilitates multiple instruments at once and lets you find just the right patch from any or all of the available instruments.

If you are upgrading from V Collection 4, be sure to download the VC5 Preset Updater, a small app that quickly converts any patches you have in earlier Arturia instruments to compatibility with V Collection 5.

B-3 V

There are plenty of software B-3 clones, but B-3 V swiftly leapt to the top of my list thanks to Arturia’s penchant for baking new capabilities into faithful reproductions of vintage instruments. For instance, the enhanced GUI and color coding of MIDI-assignable parameters is a snap (see Figure 1). It took about 30 seconds to map the faders of my Keith McMillen K-Mix to selected drawbars.

Fig 1. It is a snap to assign MIDI-control parameters to Arturia’s B-3V. Red-lit controls indicate that they are assigned, whereas purple indicates that they are unassigned.

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B-3 V’s angled, top-down view displays basic controls: vibrato and chorus switches; a selector for various vibrato modes; preamp booster; main volume; percussion switches, including a selector for 2nd or 3rd harmonic; rotor speed, brake; and more. The virtual rotary-speaker cabinet offers controls for an open or closed cabinet, acceleration for the horn and drum, and speed settings, among other things. It also includes a selection of impulse responses captured from classic reverbs. At the foot of the unit is a complement of five stompbox models—analog-style delay, chorus, flanger, overdrive, and phaser—which you can place in any order you like.

Arturia does a great job of keeping most of its innovations out of sight but easily within reach. For example, the pair of inverted triangles on the upper-right of the header open the Voice Modulator section, which is loaded with step sequencers, multi-stage envelope generators, and LFOs to modulate the drawbar settings. The envelope generators are a treat. Click on a section of the horizontal line to create a stage, and a handle will appear between the envelope points; dragging it in will create a curve for smooth and gradual transitions.

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The step sequencer also modulates the drawbar settings, and a couple of nice Terry Riley sendup patches demonstrate clever use of a pair of step sequencers—one controlling the lower manual and the other modulating the upper manual. As with the LFOs, the envelopes and step sequencers can apply a modulator to either or both manuals. You can also, for example, apply an envelope to one manual and a step sequencer to the other.

More conventional programming parameters are also available, such as tonewheel and drawbar leakage, key-click volume, and the balance between manuals. Furthermore, you can assign independent transpositions and MIDI channels to the manuals: This is handy if you’d like to use independent MIDI controllers, such as a floor pedal, keyboard, or guitar.

I really like the versatility and authentic sound of B-3 V. Overall, it is mellower than other software emulations, yet there’s plenty of opportunity to rough the sound up to taste. And the Sonic Modulators knock B-3 V way out of the park.

FARFISA V

The Farfisa combo organ, much like its relative, the Vox Continental, was the mainstay of pop music in the ’60s and early ’70s. Combo organs were easy to break down and transport, unlike the bulkier Hammond organs. The Farfisa’s low octave on the keyboard could be switched to its own bass sound, distinctive from the keys above it. More significantly, the keyboard had a knee lever, which controlled a filter on the instrument, enabling you to make sounds brighter or darker on-the-fly.

Fig. 2. Arturia adds a user-definable waveform to Farfisa V’s bag of tricks. Faders in the upper right-hand corner define the amplitude of individual harmonics. In terms of emulating the classic Farfisa sound, few do it better than Farfisa V. In fact, its feature set sends it well beyond the utilitarian tasks of emulation, thanks to Arturia’s penchant for building useful new features on top of a faithful reproduction of the original instrument. For example, when you open the instrument’s Advanced section, you’ll find 48 faders that define harmonics for a User wave (see Figure 2). This works especially well when used with the more synthetic sounding patches. You can choose from several waveforms for the bass keys, one of which is the User wave. Moreover, the ability to edit attacks and releases goes a long way toward creative sound design, as demonstrated by an assortment of tasty pads in the preset section.

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Just above the User wave faders is a Dropdown menu of 20 vintage-reverb impulse responses and a switch to assign one of three MIDI control sources to the knee lever: Aftertouch, Pitch Bend, or your choice of Control Change assignments. Farfisa V carries the same selection of stomp boxes as B-3V, but you can play the instrument direct or through a virtual combo amp, then select whether the amp is miked on- or off-axis.

Even if you are not in need of Farfisa sounds, you owe yourself a spin around the block with Farfisa V. The added sound-design features are capable of creating some wonderful timbres that are .well-suited for modern pop, ambient, and dance tracks. If you’re looking for the real deal in a virtual combo organ, start here.

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STAGE-73 V

There is no keyboard instrument as ubiquitous as the Rhodes, whose sound graces practically every genre of music today. Enter Arturia’s Stage-73 V, which provides a spot-on Rhodes sound coupled with elegant customization tools.

Here, you get two basic Rhodes types: The Stage model offers a Fender-like virtual amp, while the Suitcase model relies on the built-in amp section. Like Farfisa V, you can mic the Stage-73 V’s amp on- or off-axis with a modeled Shure SM57. The instrument models subdivide into eight Spectrum profiles, covering various tonal varieties and wear-and-tear conditions with three “noisy” variations. You get four slots for the stomp boxes, and you can change the volume pedal to an auto or standard wah-wah. If I had any single gripe about the Stage-73 V, it is the absence of reverb.

Fig. 3. Stage-73 V focuses on adjusting real-world, mechanical parameters rather than synthesis capabilities. The hidden programming options here are not nearly as bold as what is found in the two organs. The Stage-73 V’s sounds are pervasively percussive and there are no envelope generators or step modulators. That absence is more than compensated for by the focus on customized piano tools, including pickup alignment and distance, tone bar resonance, and more (See Figure 3). Hammer softness and noise controls let you add just the right amount of knock.

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When you open the programming panel, a velocity curve display pops up under the keybed: You can start with any of the presets or design one from scratch as you play; a beam for each note illustrates the force of the keystroke, so you can adjust around your own playing nuances. Additionally, you can invert the velocity response, which could come in handy when layering this instrument with other sounds. All told, these tools help you quickly find the Rhodes sound you have in mind. For example, it was pretty easy to get a nice Joe Zawinul piano bed together in short order. The more I play the Stage-73V, the closer it gets to becoming my go-to virtual Rhodes.

PIANO V

Fig. 4. Piano V’s editable parameters divide into Action (for mechanical artifacts) and Mix, which includes mic and ambient conditions such as a convolution reverb with tasty reverb impulse responses. The addition of a physically modeled acoustic piano to VC5 is an unexpected surprise. Piano V offers nine acoustic piano templates, primarily traditional grands and uprights as well as more fanciful items such as a glass and a metal grand piano. As physical models of acoustic instruments, there are no stomp boxes, envelope generators, or LFOs provided; these instruments derive their timbral variety by adjusting properties that would be modified in a real-world setting, along with a few additional parameters such as reverb, unison detune, and the level of noise.

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All of the sound-shaping tools are below the instrument’s GUI, divided into Action and Mix categories; clicking on either brings up the relevant parameters, subdivided into Tuning, Settings, Mic Setup, Room Setup, and Master. The Global Tension knob adjusts tuning from A=400 Hz to 480 Hz, and a double-click on the knob returns it to 440 Hz (See Figure 4).

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Although there are no modulation-type effects available, the Unison Detune parameter goes a long way toward thickening the sound with a natural chorusing effect. Hammer Position affects the overall brilliance of the patch, relative to its contact along the length of the string, and Hardness alters the attack of the virtual hammers. You can also change the overall dynamic range of the patch; between that and the programmable Velocity curve, it’s easy to fine-tune the piano’s response.

You can adjust many of the piano’s typical artifacts— pedal, key-release, and hammer noises, as well as the piano’s lid level. You also get an adjustable amount of piano resonance: While it is very convincing, to my ear a few patches exhibit an exaggerated amount. However, you can easily dial it back to taste.

Mix settings include two groups of mic-configuration presets—four for grand piano models and three for uprights. Other than selecting presets and altering the mix, the mic positions are fixed. There are 14 impulse responses for Piano V’s tasty convolution reverb, with controls for duration, room size, decay, and wet/dry balance.

Whether in an ensemble or exposed recordings, Piano V sounds great. One aspect of a physically modeled piano vs. a sampled one is that velocity responses seem to feel more natural and don’t have the stepped feeling you might experience with sampled velocity-crossfaded instruments. And while Piano V may not offer the depth of sound-design parameters as other modeled pianos, there is certainly enough flexibility to customize your sounds without getting too lost in the weeds. At Version One, Piano V hits all the marks, and I can hardly wait for Version Two.

SYNCLAVIER V

Fig. 5. The lower panel offers global controls for Synclavier V. With the Extended Panel exposed, you can edit individual or groups of partials. Arguably the most striking addition to the V Collection menu, the markedly digital Synclavier V represents a departure from Arturia’s otherwise all-analog instrument roster (see Figure 5). New England Digital’s Synclavier offered a combination of synthesis techniques—additive, digital FM, and a type of wavetable synthesis the designers called Timbre Frame. In a nutshell, you could define a waveform through additive synthesis, use an FM carrier-and-modulator scheme to reshape the waveforms, and animate the sounds by sweeping through up to 50 Timbre Frames. Sampling and resynthesis were later added to the Synclavier’s feature set and will hopefully be added to the Synclavier V’s feature set. But as it is, there is already plenty to digest.

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The Synclavier V is complex and it will take little work to get deep into the programming interface. I was initially thrown by the concept of a partial as it’s used for the Synclavier (from here on, capitalized to distinguish it from a single frequency). If you think of a partial in additive synthesis terms, you’re on the wrong trail. It’s a gross oversimplification, but it might help to think of a Partial as an oscillator with its own signal flow, and Synclavier V as a 12-oscillator synthesizer (as compared with the original Synclavier, which offered four Partials).

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Synclavier V has three areas of operation, with most of the basic tweaking done on the main keyboard. It’s easy to transpose, tune, and adjust simple elements, such as the overall attack and timbral development. However, Synclavier V has no filters, relying instead on morphing between Frames, and you can offset the transition time of the Frames to tweak the changes over time. Basic keyboard performance parameters include several types of Poly or Mono performance, Portamento, and more. You also get a simple arpeggiator that offers a few neat tricks: With sync on, the rate multiplies or divides the BPM; with sync off, adjustments come in increments of ten from 0 to 50 Hz.

Opening the Extended Panel gives you access to individual Partials. The Partial Select section lets you select, solo, or mute any Partial or group of Partials; shift-clicking lets you select groups of Partials to apply edits. Anyone who has ever tweaked operator parameters on the original Yamaha DX7 will appreciate the convenience of such a layout. In this case, you can adjust each Partial’s carrier-to modulator ratios and frequencies, alter the frame speed, apply coarse or fine chorusing to individual Partials, and so on.

Fig. 6. Synclavier V’s Screen window emulates Synclavier’s Green Screen. You can deploy up to 50 time-slice frames, consisting of individual timbres shaped by a combination of Additive and FM synthesis, for each of the 12 Partials. The small circles at the top represent the sliced frames as they are positioned in the timeline. If you’re looking to dig even deeper, the Graphic Screen mode is the heart of Synclavier’s sound, and the sound-design tools afforded are profound. Some of the modulation features, such as the envelopes, are accessible from the main panel; the sound-design payoff, however, is in the Time Slices section (see Figure 6). Clicking in the Time Slices Tab at any point creates a Time Slice Frame for any selected Partial. Every Partial offers as many as 24 harmonics for the carrier and 24 for the modulator. Through a basic additive technique, you are, in essence, creating a waveform. Now imagine a timeline with which you can populate up to 50 Time Slices, each with different carrier and modulator settings, and Synclavier V’s potential for animated, complex sound starts to emerge. As you can see, Synclavier V will keep you engrossed for a long time.

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COLLECT THEM ALL

With the addition of Analog Lab 2, V Collection 5 allows you to build monstrous splits and layers, drawing from any of the instruments in the collection. And at a street price below $500 for 17 topnotch virtual instruments, Arturia is providing an irresistible bargain. The five new virtual instruments, alone, would be a good deal at that price, which is all the more reason for owners of Version 4 to fork over $199 for the upgrade to Version 5.

If you use virtual instruments in your music production, you have every good reason to seriously consider V Collection 5.

STRENGTHS
A massive collection of great-sounding, faithfully reproduced vintage keyboards. New instruments include a modeled acoustic piano and the Synclavier. Analog Lab 2 makes combinations, splits, and layers easy. Resizable GUI is easy on the eye. Reasonable upgrade price.

LIMITATIONS
No subtractive synthesis parameters on Stage 73 V or Piano V.

$499
arturia.com