Review: Arturia V Collection 6

A box set of synth and keyboard history
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Arturia has built a solid reputation for accurate software emulations of coveted analog synthesizers, adding to the collection of vintage models year after year. This time around, the V Collection (V6) boasts five more instruments: a revamped acoustic piano with three new models, a virtual Clavinet, an expanded take on the DX7 and, arguably the two stars of the new offerings, the Buchla Electric Music Box and CMI V, a re-creation of the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument. Additionally, Analog Lab, which provides a real-time control platform that lets you recombine the instruments in different ways, is now at version 3 with a redesigned user interface.

V2 ROCKET 88

To my ear, and apart from the presence of three new models, Piano V2 sounds even more natural than version one. The three new models provide distinctive additions to the Piano stable. The Japanese Grand, modeled after a Yamaha grand and perhaps my new favorite of the acoustic-grand instruments, has a more pronounced high end balanced by an up-front, full bodied tone. Plucked Grand is ineffably cool, sounding like a hybrid of piano, koto, and kora (see Figure 1). Quick flicks of the pitch wheel went a long way toward imparting an Asian flavor to the instrument.

Fig. 1. One of the new pianos in Piano V2 models the sound of a grand piano whose strings have been plucked, rather than hammered, resulting in a uniquely hollow yet organic tone.

Fig. 1. One of the new pianos in Piano V2 models the sound of a grand piano whose strings have been plucked, rather than hammered, resulting in a uniquely hollow yet organic tone.

A superb-sounding convolution reverb gives the instruments a sweet finish, and two new mic arrays have been added: Player and Under. I especially, like the player-perspective mic setup, although it is not available on the upright instrument. That placement might be physically difficult in the real world, but once you have modeled glass- and metal-bodied pianos, what concept of realism are we clinging to here? As terrific as Piano V2 sounds, I’m surprised that Arturia didn’t bestow some of the same sound-sculpting features that grace its synths and electronic instruments, although Analog Lab has a modest assortment of effects, including chorus and flange.

I, CLAVDIVS

Clavinet V captures the Hohner model D feature set, and then some. The basic sound-sculpting switches of a Clavinet sit on the left-hand side of the keyboard. The instrument’s pair of pickups are similar to those of an electric guitar, with the B (near the bridge) pickup producing a brighter, more piercing tone and the C pickup, which is positioned closer to the hammers, producing a more mellow sound. C and D switches function as taps, and you can choose a single pickup or both. When you select both pickups, the A and B switches move the pickups in or out of phase.

Four tone-control buttons model Clavinet EQ settings, with Soft and Medium buttons acting as lowpass filters and Treble and Brilliant as highpass filters. As with a physical Clavinet, when all filters are off, Clavinet V produces no sound and combinations of the four produce tonal variations. The Mute slider on the right serves to dampen the instrument’s attack and tone.

As far as I’ve described, Clavinet V works in the same manner as its hardware counterpart, but as always Arturia packs surprises under its virtual hood. A click on the upper panel reveals a top-down view of controls you won’t readily find in a real-world Clav (see Figure 2). The pull-down menu of harmonic profiles includes Default that furnishes the normal tonal properties of a Clavinet; Boost 2nd and 3rd produces a rounder tone; Soft reduces the nasal qualities of the Clavinet with a sort of lowpass filter effect; Soft Boosted enhances the aforementioned odd harmonics and subtly restores a bit of the nasal Clav tone; Dark re-creates more organ-like tones; and you could easily tweak the Bass profile into a serviceable Fender Precision-like instrument. You can also adjust string resonance, release time, and various artifacts such as key release, hammer, and pickup noises.

Fig. 2. Clavinet V grants access to sonic variations you couldn’t achieve with the hardware version, including a variety of harmonic profiles including boosting of odd harmonics and bass instruments.

Fig. 2. Clavinet V grants access to sonic variations you couldn’t achieve with the hardware version, including a variety of harmonic profiles including boosting of odd harmonics and bass instruments.

Naturally, the character of the instrument changes more appreciably once the virtual amp is powered on: Arturia doesn’t state a specific amp model, but it looks somewhat like a Fender Deluxe, so that might provide a clue. The amp’s convolution model of a spring reverb furthers the impression.

Though it isn’t depicted, a modeled Shure SM57 mic is included, with a toggle between on- and off-axis positions. Tonally, Clavinets and guitars aren’t that far apart, and I was only a step or two away from finding a decent nylon-string guitar when I moved the mute slider to the center position, and a decent Duane Eddy tremolo electric guitar when I added a bit of tremolo, spring reverb, and some slap-back-style delay from one of the excellent-sounding foot-pedal effects. Stompbox effects include filters, delay, chorus, and flange. The wah pedal is always the last pedal in the chain and no self-respecting Clavinet should be without one. You can choose between a velocity- or foot-controlled wah-wah.

Arturia’s Clavinet V is easily the most playable and expressive Clavinet I’ve encountered in the virtual instrument cosmos. There is an enormous amount of sonic variety, and the best part is how easy it is to shape to your needs. And as with all Arturia VIs, clicking on the MIDI-plug icon opens practically every parameter to MIDI control and automation.

THE COMEBACK KID

FM synthesis as a concept is no more intuitive on Arturia’s DX7 V than it was in the days of its Yamaha ancestor: You still need to understand the hierarchy of algorithms, carriers, and modulators. But the good news is that Arturia’s user interface organizes programming tasks in a way that streamlines the process, and nearly everything is accessible from an overview window with tabs that focus on programming details.

To a certain extent, DX7 V hews to the same six-operator, 32-algorithm structure as the original DX7. However, Arturia sweetens it with a bevy of useful waveforms as opposed to only sine waves, as in the original, as well as lowpass, bandpass, and highpass resonant filters for each operator, which adds a great deal to the sonic variety and depth of the instrument. You can also pan operators, which you couldn’t do with the original monophonic DX7.

And if you’ve ever programmed the original instrument, you’ll surely appreciate the programming layout of DX7 V. At the top is a header that includes global transposition, tuning, amplitude modulation, and pitch modulation depth and sensitivity. The four user-definable macro controls can be assigned to tasks such as adjusting carrier release time, modulator envelope depth, filter cutoff or resonance, reverb depth, and practically anything else you may find useful.

Center stage is DX7 V’s algorithm window, where you can assign the desired configuration of carriers and modulators, using the left and right arrows, or just scroll up or down by dragging on the numerical display. Color-coded operators are consistent through all algorithms, as an aid to keeping track of their position and function. You can mute operators. Right-hand controls include an arpeggiator section, portamento and glide adjustments, and more.

Open Mode—as with all other Arturia instruments—discloses the synth’s inner workings and features six tabs. The first two, Overview and Envelopes, display all of the conventional DX7 parameters, and a few new features, including waveform selection for each oscillator/operator. The selection is intriguing and includes waveforms from the Yamaha TX81Z, OPL2 and 3, a handful of additive synthesis waveforms, and some stock analog types and variants such as parabola and cosine.

The Complement of envelope types in DX7 V are a programmer’s delight, offering a choice of the original DX7 Envelope Generator, DADSR, and Multi-Segment (MSEG) types (see Figure 3). MSEG allows for up to 16 points with independent rates and levels, and the ability to drag curvilinear slopes between stages.

Fig. 3. Multisegment envelope generators for each operator take DX7 V’s capacity for animated sounds well beyond those of its hardware ancestor.

Fig. 3. Multisegment envelope generators for each operator take DX7 V’s capacity for animated sounds well beyond those of its hardware ancestor.

There’s lots more here, including a powerful, easy-to-understand Mods section, which, in conjunction with a remarkably flexible step-sequencer, can play notes while performing multiple modulation tasks on your choice of operators. For anyone who felt the DX7 didn’t quite live up to its potential, you need to check out Arturia DX7 V.

VIRTUAL ELECTRIC MUSIC BOX

The Buchla Easel V is a semi-modular synthesizer. The basic audio-signal flow feeds from the complex oscillator to the Dual LoPass Gate, which can simultaneously act as a voltage-controlled filter, an amplifier, or both. The left-hand side of the panel harbors most of the modulation controls, including the Sequential Voltage Source (Buchla-speak for sequencer), the Envelope Generator, the Pulser, and the Modulation Oscillator. The Modulation Oscillator can perform as a secondary audible oscillator, used for frequency or amplitude modulation, or can be tuned to subsonic frequencies to serve as an LFO.

You create patches by dragging short, colorcoded cables to appropriate destinations. The color coding serves to identify the sources and destinations: For instance, orange identifies patch connections to and from the Envelope Generator, purple denotes key pressure, and blue designates the complex oscillator. Most often, a source can have multiple destinations, and you can simply drag another cable which will appear at the source when you click on it. You can also route MIDI Velocity, Modulation Wheel, or Note Number (Key Follow) messages. A narrow panel just below the programming section adds additional control voltages to the keyboard, including pulse (a repetitive attack and decay envelope), portamento, and the Arpeggiator.

Buchla Easel V offers a choice from single to four-voice polyphony. The instrument wasn’t terribly demanding on my CPU, but the load can change from patch to patch, and cutting a voice will give you back some cycles.

Clicking on the pair of disclosure triangles introduces several unique and rich modulation features, which Arturia calls the Modulation Universe. A panel on the left accesses Left Hand, Right Hand, and Gravity pages, in addition to the Effects section. Left and Right Hand actually do not refer to anything such as splits, or layers, as one might expect; instead, use the Left Hand panel to add complex multisegment “voltage” envelopes for each of up to five destinations. Click on the adjoining rectangle and choose a module and the parameter you’d like to modulate; for example, selecting Modulation Oscillator and its waveform type.

The Right Hand is a sequencer section, and here, the input is very similar to a simple, step-entry piano roll, but with a twist: The addition of a subsection that accesses the four Voltage Preset pads that let you transpose a range of steps on-the-fly. The sequencer is polyphonic, and you can get up to 32 steps and alter and randomize gate times.

The most interesting new feature is the addition of the Gravity section. Here, as with the Right Hand section, you have an arena to create complex modulation, except your tools are objects—Repellers, Planets, Walls, and Wormholes, which attract or repel a projectile initiated by triggering a note or other event (see Figure 4). You can grab objects and drag them (up to four of each type) into the center rectangle, or Universe—actually, an X/Y axis with two modulation routings per pole. Repellers are small spheres that bounce the triggered projectile on collision, Planets have a gravitational pull. Walls bounce and contain projectile ballistics, and can emit their own triggers. Wormholes are pairs of objects that can be positioned individually, and can transport the projectile from one area to another.

Fig. 4. Repellers, Planets, Walls, and Wormholes comprise the Gravity section, a sonic-modulation pinball machine that Arturia has added to its rendition of the Buchla Easel.

Fig. 4. Repellers, Planets, Walls, and Wormholes comprise the Gravity section, a sonic-modulation pinball machine that Arturia has added to its rendition of the Buchla Easel.

Buchla Easel V may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its complexity and its potential for vivid, animated sounds can be seductive.

FAITHFULLY FAIRLIGHT

The CMI V is an updated version of the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument. Although it’s more than 30 years old, and music technology quickly outpaced the Fairlight, it was a highly sought-after instrument in its time and found its way into a great number of top artist’s recordings.

CMI V divides its programming area into four main pages, which subdivide into lower-level functions. The Sound page divides into several lower-level tabs, hosting three main synthesizer engines: Sample, Time Synth, and Spectral Synth. You can convert samples into wavetables in the time Synth or use the Spectral Synth to create your own from scratch. You can import your own 16-bit, 44.1kHz samples up to 30 seconds in length.

I created some spicy waveforms by dropping a mandola sample into one of the slots. Analyzing them opens the Time Synth, which converted it to a wavetable. I could then edit its harmonics by selecting segments of the waveform and dragging (see Fig. 5). Dropping in samples from Native Instruments Absynth yielded gorgeous results. I like the interchangeability between synthesized waveform and sample; you can then convert the wavetable back to a sample, and from there back to a wavetable, and so on, until the sound is no longer recognizable.

Fig. 5. One of the highlights of Arturia CMI V is the ability to import and resynthesize samples.

Fig. 5. One of the highlights of Arturia CMI V is the ability to import and resynthesize samples.

Technically speaking, CMI V supports multisampling, but only in a limited sense. A preset only provides 10 slots, each of which holds a single sample. You can map each sample to a specific range of the keyboard, but that’s about it: There is no velocity crossfading, switching, or round-robin articulations. If you scroll through the presets, it should become obvious that, with the exception of drum kit and loop combinations, CMI’s stock-in-trade is layering and processing to build unusual sounds, rather than faithful acoustic instrument re-creations.

The envelopes and filters are relatively bareboned. You get an attack time with two Damp Modes, which are alternate release settings, and a Trigger mode that plays at full amplitude until you release a key. The filter is a nonresonant, lowpass type, but if we know anything about Arturia’s design, this is not the end of the story. The accompanying PDF manual provides a list of features added to CMI V, including the mixer, effects, and additional instrument slots, but I’m pretty sure that the original Fairlight did not have the modulation chops Arturia endowed to CMI V.

Apart from the MIDI Learn capabilities built into all of the V6 virtual instruments, CMI V has a pretty sweet Assign section which links typical controller gestures such as key follow, aftertouch, velocity, and the like to your choice of parameters. Likewise, you can assign the virtual controls, sliders, and switches on the instruments panel. Click on the Map rectangle, then click on the voice parameter to assign the destination. Click over one more tab, to the set of six multisegment function generators, which can serve as auxiliary envelopes or LFOs, and these can similarly be mapped to any available parameters.

CMI V features a redesigned version of the Fairlight sequencer (better known back in the day as Page R). Rather than select a note duration from a menu and input it in the sequencer grid with a light pen, you simply click in the pattern grid, insert a note, and drag right or left to edit note duration. Patterns are strictly monophonic. You can also drag events to one of the other tracks. Each of the ten instrument slots has eight patterns with up to 32 events per pattern, and each pattern can have its own swing and polyrhythm settings.

Sonically, the factory sounds are imbued with a nostalgic charm for electronic musicians of a certain age: The trademark breathy Fairlight voices, the resolutely ’80s-sounding dance grooves with fat-toned, oversized snares—they’re all here. And combined with your own samples, and CMI V’s resynthesis capabilities, you’ve got a terrifically versatile instrument that goes beyond the scope of its vintage sibling.

A SOUND DEAL

Overall, V Collection 6 is an unbeatable bargain, as Arturia has added additional instruments to the collection without raising its price. More than that, it is a superb and diverse collection of 20 vintage synthesizers and electronic keyboards at your fingertips. The accompanying Analog Lab is an instrument unto itself, letting you combine any two instruments in the collection in a number of ways, including knobs, faders, and the same sophisticated MIDI Learn capabilities as the individual instruments.

Overall, Arturia’s V Collection 6 is an essential virtual kitchen of vintage analog flavors, and I suggest you taste them all.

STRENGTHS
New pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers, all with enhanced soundshaping features. Analog Lab lets you combine and control instruments in a unified app.

LIMITATIONS
Acoustic and electroacoustic instruments have more conservative modulation capabilities than synths. Documentation imprecise at times.

$499
Arturia.com

Marty Cutler is the author of The New Electronic Guitarist (Hal Leonard).