As a die-hard synthesizer programmer, I wasn't planning to be impressed by Plugsound, vol. 5: World of Synthesizers — but then I started checking out the sounds. Just about every preset I tried was an ear grabber. It may not be the most programmable software synth on my hard drive, but it's musically useful, and that's what counts.
World of Synthesizers ($99) is part of Ultimate Sound Bank's Plugsound series of VST plug-in Instruments. The plug-ins all use the same playback engine, but each product in the series has its own set of samples (more than 623 MB, in this case).
Ultimate Sound Bank created World of Synthesizers by sampling patches from fabled instruments, including the Minimoog, PPG Wave, Roland D-50 and JD-800, Yamaha DX7 and AN1x, Korg Wavestation, Ensoniq VFX, Clavia Nord Lead, and Waldorf Q. Sadly, the documentation doesn't reveal which sounds came from which sources.
The library's 512 patches are arranged in categories: Composite, Voices-Flutes, Tines-Bells, Synth Bass, Pads, Filter Sweeps, Analog Brass, Synth Leads, Keys, Texture-FX, and Short-Rezo. The Synth Bass set is by far the largest, with more than 100 sounds subdivided into several categories: Acid, Analog, Disco-House, Electro-Pop, Garage, RnB-Funk, Ragga-Reggae, Sub, Techno, Trance, Underground, and Vintage. Many of the bass and lead patches are set to mono mode so you can play legato lines with glide — a necessary feature that I appreciated.
The sounds have just enough animation, with subtle high overtones that you can filter out if you need to. The multisamples in each preset match very well, and none of the samples are stretched so far upward that the animation gets twittery. A bit of chorusing or reverb is often sampled in, but it never gets overbearing. The looping is sometimes noticeable but always extremely smooth.
Stylistically, there's something here for everyone, although the accent is on mainstream pop and new age. Cranked-up leads and hardcore nastiness are in short supply, possibly because the Plugsound series has no built-in effects except for a reverb that was added with version 1.8. (You can download a free upgrade at www.usbsounds.com.) Also, there are no drums.
Getting Down with It
To put World of Synthesizers through its paces, I launched Steinberg Cubase VST and loaded a drum groove into Spectrasonics Stylus (which uses the same underlying synth engine, although the user interface is different). Plugsound is not multitimbral, so I loaded five instances and shortly had a synth-heavy hip-hop riff going with Plugsound playing bass, some bell-like chords, a cutting lead, and a couple of sparse background lines. On my 1.5 GHz machine, I was still using less than 20 percent of the CPU, even after I added a reverb plug-in to the lead. That's one of the advantages of Plugsound: because complex sounds are played back from samples, they conserve CPU cycles.
The downside is that you can't do much to customize the sounds. The programming controls in Plugsound are bare-bones, though still quite useful. You get ADSR envelopes for filter and amplitude; a choice of four filter modes; knobs on the filter for cutoff frequency, resonance, key tracking, and envelope depth; and an LFO that can modulate panning, pitch, amplitude, or filter cutoff. Other than rate and depth knobs, the LFO has no controls — no waveform choices, for example, and certainly nothing as sophisticated as clock sync. (According to the distributor, clock sync is coming in a future update.)
The mod wheel doesn't even use the main LFO. It adds vibrato from an invisible LFO, which is set much too fast for my taste. The setting is identical on all World of Synthesizers patches. You can't change the filter cutoff's Velocity response, either, but I didn't feel that was a problem, because the response felt good.
In addition to the main voice filter, Plugsound includes something called a UVI filter, which has its own mode or cutoff and resonance sliders. On my system, the filter proved to be something of a CPU hog, but fortunately it isn't needed for most sound-shaping tasks.
Boot Up, Plug In, Jam On
I might prefer some other synth for situations where I need pinpoint real-time control over the sound, but for meat-and-potatoes jobs — from comps and atmospheres to throbbing bass and spicy lead licks — Plugsound, vol. 5: World of Synthesizers is going to get a workout. I can lay down a track while the inspiration is fresh: all I have to do is grab a preset and go.