Why this relates to beats: Roger Linn’s MPC series of beat-oriented instruments set the standard for hip-hop, rap, a variety of dance music styles, and more. Pulse virtualizes an MPC-style instrument that supports VST/AU/RTAS plug-in formats (as well as stand-alone mode), Windows XP/Vista/7, and Intel Macs running 10.4.1 or higher; but being software, Pulse has a few additional tricks up its sleeve.
First contact: Pulse is as much about the 5.5GB library as it is about the instrument, and SONiVOX is at an advantage—the company has been involved in sound design for years. However, you’re not restricted to using Pulse’s sounds, as you can load multiple file formats—MPC 60/II/3000/2000/2000XL/1000/2500/500/5000/ 4000 and AIFF/WAV/Broadcast WAV/ACID/MP3 files (but no Apple Loops). Although Pulse can’t import REX files, you can divide a sample into up to 16 slices (with editable slice boundaries), then map the slices to the pads. You can also carve out a longer slice than needed and use a pad’s waveform editor to trim it to size, create a shorter slice from a longer waveform, and assign multiple samples to the same pad.
Most of the main elements—pads, a waveform editor, effects, and the like—will be familiar, but Pulse takes some creative detours. There’s a modulation section (global or per-pad) with AHDSR amplitude envelope, filter with 10 different responses, AHDSR filter envelope, and three LFOs (assigned to amplitude, filter, and pitch). With four separate pad banks, you have a total of 64 pads.
Digging deeper: The deeper you dig, the more you find sampler-type functionality. First of all, unlike some “virtual samplers,” it can actually sample, not just play back. What’s more, each pad has “round-robin” capability where successive pad triggers cycle through the samples loaded into the pad in one of four different ways: forward, backward, bidirectional, and random—crucial for avoiding the “machine gun” effect of retriggering the same sound repeatedly. You can assign pads to “choke” groups (e.g., hitting a closed hi-hat “chokes” any open hi-hat assigned to the same group), as well as set pads to retrigger at a specific resolution, quantize the input as you play, add swing, etc.
One unusual, yet very helpful, feature is what Pulse calls “auto pitch map.” You start with an empty instrument, drop a sample on a pad, and then hit auto map to “auto pitch” the sample across the pads.
There are global effects, but the roster is minimal (EQ, stereo delay, and reverb). The delay offers tempo sync or manual delay time for each channel, but sync choices are limited to standard note values except for a 1/12th-note option—for example, there’s no dotted half-note delay, which is a very popular choice for dance music. However, you can run 16 multiple outputs in multi-output mode, which makes it easy to add “external” plug-in effects.
The waveform editor is basic as well, offering sample start and end, root key, pan, pitch, and volume—no normalize, pitch envelope, or similarly advanced features. Presumably, you would do more complex edits on the samples before loading them into Pulse, or do some with the modulation (e.g., using the amplitude envelope to add a fadein or fadeout).
One of the coolest features is a step sequencer with variable step resolution (up to 32nd notes) and number of steps (up to 32). Triggering pads from the step sequencer is a hoot; it’s realtime, fluid, and musically useful. My only complaint is that if you want to play with more than 18 steps at a time, the display scrolls—making it difficult to do changes on the fly. Then again, the archetypal step sequencer is limited to 16 steps, and in that case, you can see and edit all steps at once. I also really like the way you can store up to seven step sequencer presets, select them in real time, and have patterns change seamlessly.
The bottom line: Pulse has plenty of competition—not just from products like Native Instruments Maschine and MOTU BPM, but also samplers (e.g., Kontakt) and bundled instruments like Sonar’s BeatScape. But where Pulse stakes its claim is by offering a comprehensive sound library, straightforward playback engine, solid workflow, and some novel features, at a budget price. Overall, Pulse is about bang-for-thebuck— which is exactly what it delivers.
Availability: Download from www.sonivoxmi.com; also available from retail outlets.