There are plenty of synths that are driven by rhythmic components, but none is as varied and novel as Signal. Designed for Native Instruments Kontakt (and the free Kontakt Player 5.3.1), Signal offers pulses ranging from exceptionally subtle to aggressive and slamming, with plenty in between. A unique user interface, custom-tailored for each patch, makes controlling the instrument a breeze.
Unlike the majority of Kontakt libraries, Signal has you load a single instrument file (there are no multis) and access patches from an onboard directory. That makes accessing patches quicker than navigating through files in the Kontakt Browser, though it slows the initial loading of the instrument. Output advises you to perform a batch resave in Kontakt, because that improves load time.
A Signal instrument combines up to two Pulse Engines, each with its own samples. Each Pulse Engine is divided into a main and secondary rhythm, and offers access to rhythm generators drawn from various modulation sources, including LFOs with unique shapes (Wave), step sequencers, a loop tool, and an arpeggiator.
Samples, called Sources here, are divided into two main categories: Instruments and Synths. Instruments comprise an assortment of keyboards, guitars, strings, and percussion that are not particularly meant to be played in their intended fashion. So if you’re looking to eke a traditional electric piano or guitar part from these samples, look elsewhere.
The Synths category contains standard analog waveforms and sounds processed through granulation and other treatments. In general, the Synth Sources tend to have a bit more animation than the Instrument category, and would serve nicely as pads in some instances. You can tab between the two, and change and audition Sources at will; the new sample will not be assigned until you hit OK.
Output ups the ante by offering Tape Loop and Cinematic expansion packs, full of gorgeous and atmospheric patches. These are free when you purchase Signal.
Some sounds work well as static instruments, so if you would like to hear a patch without all of the rhythmic madness, hit the Pulse Engine button. But the real fun begins with Signal’s curved Macro sliders. The Macros are designed for real-time play, and MIDI Learn pays big dividends here. Macros have different functions for each patch, indicated by names like Long/Tight, More/Less, and Open/Closed.
The Advanced button reveals, among other things, ADSR controls for volume and pitch.
The only nit I would pick with Output is the absence of a PDF manual, as there are some things left unexplained, such as the meaning of the color- coded keyboard and some of the advanced settings and Macros. Output eschews documentation in favor of an online help menu, though it mostly covers nomenclature and not application. However, there are some very useful tutorial videos online.
With its powerful sound and ability to create engaging rhythms, Signal is a marvelous instrument that offers a wide range of expressive capabilities. Its elegant, easy-to-understand design encourages exploration, and its programmability is immense; if you want to put your own stamp on the instrument, grab your controller and go!
Easy-to-learn interface. Deep programming. Great source sounds. Rhythms cover a wide dynamic range from tranquil to distorted and loud.
No PDF documentation.