Although specifically tailored for percussion sounds, Attack is a software synthesizer that's flexible and full featured enough to produce an interesting assortment of leads, basses, pads, and sound effects. Produced by Waldorf and distributed by Steinberg, this VST Instrument plug-in includes documentation, examples, and Kits that are clearly Cubase oriented; some features are not completely supported in other applications, so performance will vary somewhat depending on your choice of host.
Now that software-based percussion samplers are all the rage, it's significant that Attack is a subtractive synthesizer and not a sampler. Its multitimbral architecture features multiple-waveform digital oscillators, resonant multimode filters with distortion, and global delays for Attack's two stereo outputs and four mono outputs. To add motion, Attack provides two envelope generators (EGs) and LFOs that sync to MIDI — one for filter cutoff and another for delay-time modulation. Audio modulation techniques include FM, AM, ring modulation, and “crack” (which is discussed later and is perfectly legal).
Attack ships with 31 Kits and over 700 sounds, ranging from classic beatbox emulations to modern drum sets from top sound designers. As of this writing, no Attack demo software is available, but several MP3 files that illustrate its percussion and multitimbral capabilities can be downloaded from the Waldorf and Steinberg Web sites. MP3 examples are also on EM's Web site (www.emusician.com).
For this review, I used Attack with Cubase VST/24 4.1 and Emagic Logic Audio Platinum 4.72 on a Mac G3/300 MHz with OS 8.6. For audio output, I used the built-in Sound Manager and an Emagic AW8 audio card. Sound quality was high, and latency was minimal under all conditions when playing live and sequencing. The number of simultaneous notes (64 maximum) depends on your CPU; my system maxed out on some of the larger example songs.
Attack's onscreen panel is arranged into modules (see Fig. 1). In addition to two oscillators, two EGs, a filter, an amplifier, and a mixer, there are sections to specify crack and delay parameters. User-friendly features include the option to control the onscreen knobs with circular or vertical motion and simulated LEDs that indicate which sounds are playing and how long they're held. When you hold the cursor over a control, its description and value are displayed. When you hold the Shift key as you scroll, Attack shows numerical values in fine resolution.
The sounds in the current Kit are indicated by keyboard-style tabs along the left side of the panel. The tabs are numbered 1 through 12 and then 1 through 12 again rather than 1 through 24, as you might expect. The numbering system denotes that the lower 12 sounds are single-note, monophonic sounds, whereas the upper 12 are polyphonic. When one of the upper 12 sounds is selected, the keyboard graphic at the bottom pops down to indicate polyphony; you can play different pitches by clicking on the keyboard. Clicking on the tabs along the left side plays each sound at its root pitch.
Attack's keyboard mapping lets you simultaneously play monophonic percussion sounds and polyphonic synthesizer sounds from a single MIDI keyboard by reserving 24 MIDI notes (C1 through B2) to play the monophonic sounds. You can use those notes to play or sequence Attack as a percussion synth; conveniently, they cover the most used part of the General MIDI (GM) drum map. Use MIDI notes C3 through G9 to play the top 12 sounds polyphonically, and then the MIDI channel determines which sound is played. For example, to play the Wurlitzer sound polyphonically, you would play MIDI notes C3 through G9 on MIDI channel 7. Starting at C3 might seem like a severe limitation with bass sounds, but you can adjust the oscillator tunings to compensate.
If your host software supports MIDI automation, you can automate all of Attack's sound parameters. Different MIDI controller numbers are assigned to manage the lower and upper 12 sounds. Logic Audio uses its own scheme for mapping MIDI controller messages to VST plug-ins, so Attack automation is somewhat limited in Logic Audio.
Attack's two stereo and four mono outputs offer a lot of flexibility for processing individual percussion sounds, but whether multiple outputs are supported is also host dependent. The factory Kits take full advantage of the multiple outs, so if some sounds don't play when you use Attack with a single-output host, check the sound's output routing to see if anything is assigned to outs that don't exist.
Along with the delay-time LFO, each stereo output has a dedicated stereo delay with cross-channel feedback for Ping-Pong effects. The delay settings are global, meaning that they're the same for all of the sounds assigned to a given output.
SOUND THE ATTACK
Attack's oscillators produce four waveforms (saw, triangle, sine, and square), two flavors of noise (pink and white), and three cymbal samples (open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, and crash). The enormous tuning range of the oscillators, which is approximately 0.01 to 20,000 Hz, accommodates a variety of percussive sounds.
The low end of Oscillator 2's frequency range lets it function as an LFO for modulating Oscillator 1's frequency. Because no dedicated pitch LFO is provided, however, only single-oscillator sounds are possible if you want low-frequency pitch modulation. Either envelope can modulate the pitch of both oscillators, with or without Velocity scaling, as well as frequency modulation depth. In addition, either envelope can individually control Oscillator 2's level in the mixer module.
Attack's filter has six modes: Lowpass, Highpass, Bandpass, Notch, Bell-Shaped, and Shelf. In the first four modes, the filter slope is 12 dB per octave. In Bell-Shaped and Shelf modes, the resonance control sets the amount of cut or boost as much as 12 dB. Also in the first four filter modes, maximum resonance makes the filter self-oscillate when stimulated by a quick pulse. (To generate such a pulse, simply apply a short envelope to Oscillator 2's level in the mixer section.)
A dedicated sine-wave LFO in the filter module modulates the cutoff frequency. You can synchronize the LFO to MIDI Clock or to MIDI Note On messages. A Drive control applies a maximum 54 dB of saturation to the filter's output.
In the amplifier module, you can assign mute groups (three are available). Mute groups allow only one timbre in the group to sound at a time. For example, an open and a closed hi-hat are typically assigned to the same mute group.
Attack has two attack-decay-release EGs, but when you set the Decay knob to maximum, they produce attack-release envelopes. You can continuously vary the shape of the decay and release segments from concave (which starts fast and ends slow) through linear, then convex (which starts slow and ends fast), and finally to S-shaped (see Fig. 2). The capacity for variable shapes is especially useful for fine-tuning the tails of cymbal sounds.
The Crack module is a ramp-down sawtooth LFO with a built-in decay envelope. Applying it to the overall mix level provides a series of loud attacks, or cracks. The Crack module has controls for the LFO speed and the decay envelope length. A single, slow-to-medium crack is useful for many types of drum and cymbal sounds. You can dial up more extreme crack settings for a variety of sound effects.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER KITS
Attack's 31 factory Kits cover the bases from standard, GM-compatible drum Kits appropriate for straight-ahead drum sequencing to more unusual sound-effects Kits. Many Kits contain several polyphonic sounds, including two instrument Kits, each with the full complement of 12 polyphonic sounds. For Cubase users, there are 16 demo songs to familiarize you with the various Kits. For users of other VST hosts, the Attack installation disc contains MP3 versions.
The GM-compatible Kits range from acoustic to electronic, and they definitely furnish enough variety to eke out extra mileage from tired drum parts. The most straightforward Kits, Latin and Acoustic, do a convincing job of replicating standard acoustic drum sounds. Attack's retro percussion cabinet is well stocked, with two beatbox Kits and resident Kits (meaning that they don't need to be loaded from disk) that emulate the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 as well as the Simmons SDS-5.
The polyphonic instrument Kits emphasize lead and bass timbres, for which Attack is well suited. Several tuned percussion sounds, along with a few pads and organs, are also included. Conveniently, each instrument Kit contains an abbreviated GM drum Kit on the lower 12 (nonpolyphonic) tabs. With a little judicious editing of your drum parts, you can sequence a complete multitimbral song from one instance of Attack.
The effects Kits lean heavily toward sci-fi and video-arcade sounds but also include a number of Foley-type effects. Considering Attack's extensive modulation capabilities, it's hard to imagine a synthesizer effect you couldn't program with a little dedication.
Attack fills an important niche by providing a sophisticated subtractive synthesis architecture designed specifically for percussion sounds. Attack's flexible oscillator design, variable-shape envelopes, Crack generator, and multiple outputs for independently processing different sounds open the door to a lot of creative percussion sequencing.
Right out of the box, Attack's varied assortment of Kits make it easy to use, and its cost is in line with other VST Instruments of similar sophistication. Programming new sounds is a pleasure and not especially difficult. The tutorials at the end of the manual, including a fine one on synthesizing various types of percussion sounds, provide a good foundation.
If you're looking for your own sound and you're willing to spend a little time designing it, Attack should provide the tools you need. When you consider that Attack's usefulness extends well beyond the realm of percussion sequencing, it is definitely worth considering as an addition to your virtual rig.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: PPC 604e/250; 64 MB RAM; OS 8.0; VST 2.0 — compatible host.
PC: Pentium II/266; 64 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/2000/ME; VST 2.0 — compatible host.
Attack 1.0.1 (Mac/Win)
VST percussion synthesizer
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.0VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Polyphonic, multitimbral functionality. Includes excellent collection of Kits. Simple to program. Outstanding tutorials.
CONS: Can't use MIDI to select sounds for editing. Global delay modules are hardwired to separate outputs. No dedicated pitch LFO.