TONE2 FireBird 1.2.1 and FilterBank2 1.4 (Win)

FireBird is an easy-to-use but quite powerful synth featuring a variation on wavetable synthesis dubbed Harmonic Content Morphing (HCM). FilterBank2 is a dual-filter effect incorporating a broad range of filter types followed by distortion and flexible feedback-delay effects.
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FireBird 1.2.1 ($69) and FilterBank2 1.4 ($49) are the latest offerings from Markus Feil of Tone2. FireBird is an easy-to-use but quite powerful synth featuring a variation on wavetable synthesis dubbed Harmonic Content Morphing (HCM). FilterBank2 is a dual-filter effect incorporating a broad range of filter types followed by distortion and feedback-delay effects.

Both FireBird and FilterBank2 are VST-format plug-ins for the Windows platform. You can buy them as well as download time-limited, automation-disabled demos from the Tone2 Web site.

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FireBird packs all modules along with an interactive keyboard onto this compact control panel.

Table Talk

FireBird's signal path starts with a pair of identical HCM oscillators, and they are the key to the sound of this synth. You can think of a wavetable as a series of spectral snapshots of a sound evolving over time. Each snapshot is a single-cycle waveform reflecting the harmonic content of the sound, and each wavetable contains 256 snapshots. FireBird ships with 51 wavetables along with 7 single-cycle waveforms for creating standard synth sounds. The wavetables cover a range of electronic and acoustic instruments as well as ten vocoded words and phrases. It would be nice to be able to create your own wavetables, but you can use FireBird's other assets to get a lot out of those provided.

FireBird's wavetable oscillators give you three types of control over how the wavetable is played. You can manipulate the wavetable harmonically by spectrum shifting, mixing several octave-transposed waveforms, or changing the starting position in the table. You can choose the direction and the repeat mode of the table — for example, making the waveform repeat forward and backward, play once and stop, or play from a random position in the table on each pass. Finally, you can choose the speed that playback traverses the wavetable, and that can be set in hertz or synced to tempo. A unison effect distributes multiple detuned voices across the stereo field, and an analog control introduces a random pitch-drift.

The oscillators are mixed and fed to a multimode filter whose modes include the usual filter types along with unusual choices such as amplitude and frequency modulation, downsampling, and formant filtering. The filter has its own ADSR envelope and is followed by an overdrive-distortion module. That is followed by a multi-effect with a variety of time-based processes: reverb, delay, flange, chorus, and so on. For modulation you get an LFO with some interesting, gating-style rhythmic waveshapes and a rhythm-programmable arpeggiator. When you use both the LFO and the arpeggiator, things can get amusingly weird.

Bank on It

FilterBank2 takes the filtering options in FireBird to the next level. It starts with a pair of multimode filters, and you get 53 modes compared with FireBird's 20. The filters can run in series or parallel, and when in parallel, their outputs are mixed, subtracted, or panned full left and right. You can restrict yourself to one filter or bypass both and use only the distortion, delay, and gating effects.

The filter types emphasize the big four — lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and notch — with variations in slope, filter response, and resonance characteristics. Beyond that, you'll find several 2-band EQs, comb filters, a phaser, and a smattering of formant filters. AM, FM, and six flavors of reverb round out the selection. The filters feed a distortion unit with effects ranging from tube-amp saturation to bit crushing to a Warble effect that adds nonlinear harmonics. A basic, tempo-synced feedback-delay effect follows the distortion module. Beyond simple echoes, the delay has spring-reverb and resonator modes as well as a variety of autopanning options.

For modulation you get a pair of multiwaveform LFOs similar to FireBird's, a 16-step gating sequencer, and an envelope follower. You can apply each of the modulators to most of FilterBank2's parameters. For example, in addition to typical volume gating, you can use the sequencer to control the delay time or the LFO frequency. You can use the envelope follower with negative modulation polarity as a kind of compressor to lower a lowpass filter's cutoff as the input volume rises (see Web Clip 1).

The frequency range of the FilterBank2 LFOs runs well into the audio spectrum, and you can route them directly to the audio inputs. That allows FilterBank2 to be used as a subtractive synth, and a virtual instrument version is included for just that purpose. The FilterBank2 effects and instrument plug-ins each come with a bank full of useful presets; FireBird comes with three banks. For the price and range of sounds, these plug-ins are worth a listen.

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