XILS 3 LE (Mac/Win, VST/AU/RTAS, $30) is a low-cost version of XILS Lab''s flagship matrix-modular synthesizer XILS 3, a spiffed-up emulation of the classic EMS VCS 3. Except for its updated file browser and the use of password rather than dongle copy protection, LE is version 1 of the XILS 3. It''s a great way to try out this unusual synth, and there is a no-penalty upgrade path to the full version in the likely event that you become hopelessly addicted. The full version has more connection possibilities, a more flexible step sequencer, some additional modules, and more presets, but the LE version is by no means underpowered, and the impressive collection of presets includes offerings from noted sound designers such as Kevin Lamb, Chris Pitman, and Cliff Douse.
The XILS 3 LE has three oscillators with flexible waveform controls, a noise generator, and two inputs for external audio with associated envelope and transient followers, a pitch tracker, and a gate effect. There''s a resonant 2-, 3-, or 4-pole lowpass filter and one envelope generator, which is switchable between trapezoid and standard ADSR shapes. A built-in joystick and robust MIDI Learn implementation give you plenty of realtime and automation options. Effects include ring modulation, chorus, reverb, and a tempo-synchable stereo delay.
The 128-step sequencer is especially noteworthy because it forces you to rethink step sequencing. It is, in fact, three pairs of step sequencers. You can map each of these six sequencers to a variety of synth parameters including, of course, oscillator frequency. You can vary the output range and each step value. While programming is time-consuming, the possibilities are endless. For more details on XILS 3 and its history, check out Geary Yelton''s soft synth roundup, “A Perfect 10,” in the March 2010 issue of EM.