Review: UVI Falcon

IF YOU LOVE SYNTHESIZERS, YOU’LL WANT THIS SOFT SYNTH
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To accommodate so many on­screen elements, Falcon’s GUI is larger than most plug-in windows. At its largest, it can fill your en­tire display, and you can click and drag to make the standalone ver­sion any size you want.

At first I was skeptical about taking this assignment. Does anyone really need another soft synth that couldn’t possibly live up to its manufacturer’s lofty promises? Fortunately, a close friend had seen a demo and convinced me to check it out. Boy, am I glad I listened to him! Three weeks later, I am so thoroughly impressed with UVI Falcon that I can’t wait to use it every time I boot up my computer.

Falcon handles synthesized and sampled sounds with aplomb, even mixing and matching sound engines controlled by common modulators in a single program. It combines many forms of synthesis, from simple virtual analog to complex wavetables. It is so fully multimbral that there appears to be no limit to how many parts you can play independently, stack, and layer, so long as you have enough MIDI ports and channels to address them all. With comprehensive synthesis features, an onboard sample editor, and a collection of presets that will knock your shoes and socks off, Falcon is the new alpha dog in town.

TAKE A GANDER
Downloading and installing Falcon’s 962 MB of data was a breeze. Its sample content was recorded as 24-bit, 96kHz WAV files, compressed to lossless FLAC and then converted to UFS format for maximum quality and minimum file size. Because most of the programs rely on DSP-generated waveforms rather than samples, the download is much smaller than it could be. Copy protection is by Pace iLok, which I’ve always found convenient.

Falcon runs standalone or as a plug-in. Its resizable user interface is arranged in a logical hierarchy that makes perfect sense once you’ve learned to maneuver its intricacies. With so many creative options, complexity is inevitable, but UVI has brought Falcon’s complexity down to an acceptable level by keeping its user interface tightly organized. Still, you should be aware that it isn’t like synths that follow a left-to-right audio signal flowchart. Falcon is more top-down than left-to-right. Once you get the big picture, you should be able to create, modify, and organize sounds more quickly than with other multitimbral synths.

A multi contains from one to an apparently unlimited number of parts. Each part contains one program, and each program contains layers, keygroups, and oscillators. Falcon treats oscillators as what they actually are: the only components that make sounds, making them the absolute heart of any electronic musical instrument. Anything downstream from an oscillator serves to modify the sound it makes, whether it’s a filter or a phase shifter. At every stage upstream from the oscillator—multi, part, program, layer, and keygroup—you can use modulation, audio effects and MIDI event processors (like arpeggiators, alternate tunings, scripts, and a MIDI file player) to further define what comes out of the speaker.

Falcon’s GUI has three views—Main, Mixer, and Performance. In the Main view, the center pane is where you access and edit programs, layers, keygroups, oscillators, effects, modulation parameters and keyboard maps by clicking on the Edit tab. These are stacked in levels in which you reveal parameter, controls by clicking on icons and triangles as if you’re opening folders. Additional tabs access MIDI event processing pathways, modulation routings, and effects parameters.

Two sidebars flank the center pane. The left one accesses parts in a multi, and the browser in the right one makes it dead simple to find and load presets, samples and components. Mixer view displays a mixing console comprising loaded parts and effects parameters, and Performance displays an overlook of all parts simultaneously. You create and modify programs by combining Falcon’s basic components—oscillators, effects, modulations, and event processors. Click on a tab in the right sidebar to choose the component type you want, and then click and drag the component to the center pane. For example, dragging an oscillator to the keymap creates a keygroup, which you click and drag to encompass whatever note range you prefer. The type of oscillator you select will determine the sound engine.

Build a Better Bird

Oscillators are either synthesized or sampled. Synthesis oscillators are DSP-generated and comprise virtual analog, wavetable, phase distortion, and 4-operator FM types, as well as noise (15 colors), analog stack (up to eight layered oscillators), drum (blending analog and noise), and organ (9 sine waves with drawbars). The pluck oscillator uses physical modeling to emulate one or two plucked strings. The selection of wavetables is especially impressive, with dozens of choices that allow you to impart motion to your sounds by modulating wave indexes. You can also import your own samples to resynthesize as wavetables.

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Because the sampling oscillator’s GUI displays editable audio waveforms, you won’t need a separate sample editor. Right-clicking enables all the usual sample-editing functions, such as cropping, normalizing, looping, and so on.

Additional sampling oscillators offer more than standard playback. The stretch oscillator transposes pitch without changing duration, and the slice oscillator automatically divides rhythmic loops into sections and maps them to the keyboard. ICRAM Stretch is similar, but it preserves envelopes and transients more accurately. Falcon’s granular synthesis capabilities revolve around the ICRAM Granular oscillator, which splits samples into grains and manipulates them using a variety of methods. ICRAM Multi Granular carries those concepts even deeper. Either granular type is perfect for transporting samples to innovative territories.

One of Falcon’s oddities is that filters are considered audio effects and appear alongside delays, reverbs, and other effects processors. A nice variety of filters is included—standard single-mode and multimode types, a state-variable filter, a morphing vowel filter that sweeps formants, and my favorite, the Xpander filter, a ladder filter with 37 response curves, saturation and oversampling. I just wish some of its complex and unusual shapes were better documented. Most of all, I wish Falcon had an undo function.

Other effects range from ordinary to extraordinary. Some of the standouts include numerous distortion types, many guitar-amp simulators, a sophisticated dual delay, and the Sparkverb reverb processor (available separately for $199). You even get a spectrum analyzer, phase meter, and chromatic tuner.

Not surprisingly, Falcon’s modulation options are comprehensive. The envelope generators include AD, AHD, ADSR, DAHDSR, and a multi envelope with any number of breakpoints. The step envelope is a pattern sequencer with up to 128 steps, and the Drunk module generates random changes in amplitude within user-defined limits. Falcon’s LFO offers waveshapes I’ve never seen before, and you can independently adjust its delay and rise time, which determines the time between its onset and its full value.

Although the user manual is clearly written, Falcon has too many deep features to cover every detail in fewer than 200 pages, and many aspects are glossed over too quickly. Fortunately, a series of YouTube videos helps to fill in the blanks.

Call of the Wild

It sounds as though UVI spared no expense on hiring talented sound designers. The included patches—and there are hundreds of them—are uniformly excellent. I probably shouldn’t expect less from a company that built its reputation on dynamite sample-playback libraries, but I’m still stunned by just how good and how varied most of these patches are. You could easily record an entire album using only Falcon, and no one would ever guess it was a single software instrument.

If I had any criticism of Falcon’s content, I’d say it doesn’t supply a lot of traditional musical sounds, but not to worry. You can load any sampled content for UVI Workstation into Falcon—whether it’s UVI’s Orchestral Suite or MOTU’s Bob Moog Foundation Encore Soundbank—map it, modify it with filters, effects and modulators, and save your creations as new Falcon content. What’s more, your Falcon license includes a $100 voucher toward purchase of any UVI library—quite a bonus. You can mix and match synthesized and sampled material in the same keymap, regardless of whether it’s Falcon’s factory content, content from UVI sample libraries, your custom synthesizer creations, or samples you’ve recorded yourself or acquired from third parties and imported into Falcon.

I Am the Falconer

I’m excited about Falcon. It does more of what I want a synthesizer to do than anything else ever has, and I plan to develop a close relationship with it. I’m sure it has its flaws, like any software, but after three weeks of digging into it, the only one I’ve found is that it isn’t terribly intuitive for the first few hours.

Falcon gives you plenty to explore and plenty of ways to stimulate your creativity and curiosity. It will take you as deep as you want to go, but because it’s so thoughtfully and logically organized, developing a smooth and speedy workflow is all but certain once you’ve gained enough experience using it. Whether you want a platform for creating your own timbral vocabulary or you want an expandable palette of new sounds to make your music more interesting and fresh, Falcon may be exactly what you’re looking for.

STRENGTHS
Uncommon depth. Logical, well-organized workflow. Integrated sample editor. Terrific factory content. Expandable using UVI sample libraries and user samples. Includes $100 content voucher. Priced to intimidate competitors.

LIMITATIONS
No undo. So deep and different that it may take awhile to grasp everything.
$349

uvi.net