If you''ve ever considered trying your hand at modular synthesis, you couldn''t pick a better place to start in the virtual world than ACE (Mac/Win, $85) from Urs Heckman. The price is right, the patching is relatively uncomplicated—owing to the familiar analog-modeled signal path—the manual is excellent, and you''ll find more than 500 presets to get you started.
ACE stands for Any Cable Everywhere. There is no distinction between control- and audio-rate signals, so you can run a cable between any output (black-ringed jack) and any input (gray-ringed jack) and hear what happens. That does come at the expense of a high CPU load. Normaling (behind-the-panel wiring indicated by silver input-jack labels) gives you a fully functioning synth without ever running a cable. Despite being retro in concept, ACE is capable of a broad spectrum of sounds as you''ll hear in Web Clip 1, as well as in the audio demos and the Lego-inspired video “He Loves My Pies” on the U-he website.
ACE starts with a standard complement of modules: two multiwaveform VCOs and a noise generator, a pair of multimode filters, a pair of amplifiers, and a dual-effects processor. For modulation, you get a couple of LFOs, a couple of ADSR envelopes, a ramp generator, and a multistep control sequencer called Mapper. In addition to the module outputs, a row of jacks across the bottom lets you patch in common MIDI messages. An auto-synching oscilloscope shows you the pre-effects output, and dialing that down to the waveform level is invaluable in seeing the results of your patching.
A great way to approach ACE, and one that is not readily available with hardware modular systems, is to load a preset in a category you want to explore and start ripping out patch chords to see how they affect the sound. If you''re new to modular synthesis, that''s a quicker way to develop a feel for ACE patching than starting with the default preset and adding cables. And you do want to read the manual.