Spectrasonics Trilian 1.2 (Mac/Win) Review

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FIG. 1: Trilian''s Main page offers user-defined controls for quickly editing any patch. You can customize this view by configuring and naming whatever knobs and buttons you find most useful.

Spectrasonics has plenty of experience sampling basses. The company first made its mark with Bass Legends, an acclaimed CD-ROM library for rackmount Akai and Roland samplers, earning a 5-star review in the April 1996 EM. The plug-in Trilogy launched in 2002, pairing a top-shelf software instrument with 3GB of electric, acoustic, and synthesized basses. Spectrasonics has now upped the ante considerably with Trilian Total Bass Module, a virtual bass plug-in based on Steam, the sound engine at the heart of the company''s flagship Omnisphere. (To get the most out of this review, I strongly encourage you to read my February 2009 Omnisphere review.) Trilian comes loaded with 34GB of samples that encompass the sample content of its predecessors and much more new material.

Trilian runs in AU, RTAS, and VST hosts; like Spectrasonics'' other instruments, it isn''t available standalone. It supports both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows and Mac OS X. I used the AU version in Apple Logic Pro 9.1 running in Mac OS X 10.6.2 on my 3.2GHz 8-core Mac Pro with 10GB of RAM. Installation was straightforward and took less than two hours. For each of the five install discs, I had to specify the location of my hard disk and type in my administrator password.

Steaming Hot
Trilian''s implementation of Spectrasonics'' Steam Engine is practically identical to that of Omnisphere, but with slightly fewer synthesis capabilities and a few parameters optimized for bass, including release-layer triggering and round-robin playback. If you have both plug-ins, all samples and patches must be located in the same folders. Core library integration lets you open and play all of Trilian''s sounds in Omnisphere, where you can modify them using functions that Trilian lacks to create unison voices, for example, or apply ring modulation or granular synthesis. You can even create multis that combine Trilian and Omnisphere sounds. You can''t, however, open Omnisphere''s sounds in Trilian.

Like Omnisphere, Trilian is 8-part multitimbral. Eight parts make up a multi, each part contains a patch, and each patch has two layers. Each layer comprises an oscillator, two filters, and envelopes for filter and amplitude, and the two layers share six LFOs and two modulation envelopes—half as many mod envelopes as Omnisphere. Oscillators play multisamples called Soundsources. You can go deep into modifying any patch on its Edit page, and you have easy access to a more limited number of parameters on its Main page. Live mode lets you instantly switch to any of eight patches by clicking on it or using MIDI CCs or keyswitches. Stack mode lets you graphically arrange splits and layers containing up to eight patches by note range and velocity.

I was thrilled to learn that Trilian, unlike Omnisphere, lets you create a custom control layout on each patch''s Main page by assigning knobs and buttons to any parameter. You can name your custom controls anything you want, essentially giving every patch its own user interface. The controls may be different every time you load a new patch; for example, the factory patch Bashing Punks in Rotterdam has knobs for Dimension, Bit Reduce, and Distortion, and Hell''s Disco has knobs for The Abyss, Flames, and Pitch Twister. If you open the same patches in Omnisphere, however, those custom controls aren''t available, but there''s nothing Trilian can do that Omnisphere can''t.

Trilian takes full advantage of the Steam Engine''s sophisticated arpeggiator, which has more than 50 new presets in the latest version and now supports triplets and dotted notes. By dragging MIDI drum loops or other MIDI files into Trilian''s arpeggiator, Groove Lock lets you play drum and bass patterns in perfect synchronization (see Web Clip 1).

I should mention at least two other new features in Trilian and Omnisphere. The Edit page offers several new filter types—most notably the Juicy filters, which quite effectively emulate real analog electronics. Additionally, the new sample file server allows 32-bit Mac systems to break free of previous memory restrictions, so if you have sufficient RAM in your computer, you can load much larger multis and multisamples than previously.

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FIG. 2: Trilian''s powerful browser speeds up searching for patches, multis, and Soundsources. You can audition, rate, filter, and tag them using any search terms that help you find them most efficiently.

Basses Loaded
The variety of bass patches in Trilian is stunning. I counted more than 600 synth basses, nearly 450 electric basses and articulations, and more than 75 acoustic bass patches. And that''s not even counting more than 180 presets that furnish arpeggios and rhythm patterns or the more than 100 monophonic synths that extend beyond the bass range. All the patches draw from a pool of nearly 1,400 Soundsources comprising millions of individual samples.

Legacy patches include all the notes and articulations from Bass Legends—played by pre-eminent bassists Abraham Laboriel, Marcus Miller, and John Patitucci—but not any of that collection''s runs, riffs, or grooves. All 3GB of Trilogy''s core library is in Trilian. If you''re upgrading from Trilogy (special pricing is available), you won''t be able to import your user patches so you''ll need to either re-create them manually or keep both plug-ins installed if you want to keep using them. Note that Spectrasonics doesn''t support Trilogy in the latest versions of Windows or Mac OS X.

The selection of bass guitars is certainly comprehensive. You''ll find 4, 5, 6, and 8-string electric basses—both fretted and fretless—played with techniques that include fingered, picked, muted, slapped, popped, and pulled, as well as legato, staccato, harmonics, x-notes, glisses, and various slides. I especially liked the Studio Bass patches, which were made from sampling Matt Bissonette playing the Music Man Bongo, a 5-string bass with dual humbuckers (see Web Clip 2). You get 4-band EQ and compression knobs on the Main page, and you can even dial in the mix of signals from a DI and an Ampeg amp. And if you''re a fan of the Chapman Stick (a fretted electric instrument most associated with bassist Tony Levin), there''s an extensive set of articulations, both with and without effects.

Trilian''s upright acoustic bass is everything you''d want a sampled bass to be. Trilian Ac 1 combines recordings made with a Neumann U47 and Wilson K-Pick-Ups, whereas Trilian Ac 2 was recorded through an AKG C 12 and Schertler STAT-B pickups. Another favorite is a Martin acoustic bass guitar with an extensive range of articulations. With dozens of articulations on hand, Trilian''s acoustic basses are exceptionally versatile and lifelike.

Thirty sampled synths range from classics such as the Roland TB303, Korg MS-20, and Moog Taurus to recent entries such as the Dave Smith Instruments Tetra and Cwejman S1 MK2. Of special note is the large collection of sounds routed through the Metasonix KV-100, a lo-fi effects processor that can make the sweetest sound absolutely horrifying. And thanks to custom controls, real-time edit access is tailored to individual instruments.

The Real Lowdown
Trilian has many thoughtful features that solve problems and make using it a pleasure. For example, some of the patches are huge, and that''s a problem if they consume more computer resources than you have to spare. Sample thinning allows you to minimize a patch''s resource consumption by limiting the number of velocities or round-robins it plays. You can also specify that a patch load samples for only certain scales or intervals, or train it to load samples for only the notes you play.

An instrument with keyswitches needs some visual indication of where those keyswitches are. Live mode gives you eight slots, enough to simultaneously load ample articulations for a single expressive instrument. Keyswitches for each part are displayed along with their patch names, and because they can be momentary switches, you only need to press F1 and play a note to slide up, for example, and release it to continue playing normally. In addition, Stack mode lets you remap articulations across the keyboard and velocity-switch between articulations.

In the latest version, Trilian''s browser lets you rate patches on a scale from one to five, making it easier to relocate sounds you like at a later date (see Fig. 2). You can also group patches that work well together into projects for later recall. I only wish you could separate the Browser window from the rest of the GUI and expand its size.

Big Bottom
This was one of those reviews that kept sidetracking me while I was writing it. It''s easy to lose track of time exploring so many incredible sounds, blending them and reshaping them into something new and different. I could easily spend entire days trying out patches, layering them with other patches, and processing them with effects and synthesis parameters to make sounds I could never achieve with a real bass (see Web Clip 3).

If you record music with a computer, I can scarcely imagine any situation in which Trilian wouldn''t be immensely useful. A bass player would have more immediate expression playing a real bass, of course, but it would take a roomful of gear and expert technique to get many of the sounds that Trilian supplies at the click of a mouse.

If you already own Trilogy, you should upgrade right away. The new synths or electric basses alone are well worth the money. Trilian is an outstanding bargain and a technological tour de force. I recommend it without hesitation.

Senior editor Geary Yelton has been playing bass for nearly 40 years and writing for EM for nearly 25. He lives in North Carolina and telecommutes globally.

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Click on the Product Summary box to view Spectrasonics Trilian's Product Page.