The market feels like its closing up a bit on software synths, with certain big players pretty much having a stranglehold. Perhaps this is largely down to just how much variety is possible from most synths nowadays, leading to people sticking to a workhorse and not really looking for more – but XILS Lab Oxium absolutely deserves a look. It might not be unique, but the sounds it does well it does absolutely superbly.
Formats: Mac 10.4+, 32/64 bit VST/AU/RTAS. Windows XP+, 32/64 bit VST/RTAS
Requirements: 2GHz processor, 1GB RAM
As far as interface goes Oxium does do an admirable job of keeping its myriad controls fairly manageable, with knob/slider graphics for the majority of controls, but some of the visual splits on the panel are a bit confusing – the filter and EQ sections are split in what seems to me to be an odd way, for instance. There are two different skins available depending on your preference – industrial grey or eye popping orange. I do love a bit of colour in my life, so I went for the orange.
Oxium’s waveform generation is designed in a fairly rare way; each oscillator has triangle, saw, square and pwm waveforms available, but instead of selecting between them they can be freely stacked. Oxium can sound absolutely huge doing this, as the eight basic waveforms give real grunt and character to the sound. Add to that monster oscillator section the ability to sync, desync with variable drift, and stereo spread the frequencies and tune, and before you even get any further Oxium’s very impressive. Oh, and there’s six voice unison available with vintage detuning emulation too. Like I said, Oxium can sound absolutely huge, but even when run prudently it somehow never sounds ‘thin’.
The filter section too is, if not unique, certainly very capable. There’s a single filter, switchable between 12 and 24dB/o low pass, 6 and 12dB/o band pass, and a 12dB/o high pass, as well as an EQ that can be set to 12dB/o low or high pass or 6dB/o band pass – as well as a formant filter. The order the signal path travels through these two can be switched around, and each oscillator as well as the noise generator has its own wet/dry slider for each.
There’s an overdrive that can be placed pre or post filter, and there’s something about the filter that makes it sound really, really pleasing, resonance is really musical at low frequencies – frequencies that get out of control in a lot of other synths. There may not be the never-ending list of filter types and classic filter emulations that crop up in other synths, but I’m very impressed with how the filtering sounds.
Oxium doesn’t go overboard with effects, and in general I prefer to be able to add effects via my favourite effects plugins over having a bloated synth interface. A simple complement of chorus, phaser, stereo delay, and a couple of single band EQs make up Oxium’s effects section, and they’re nice and simple and sound as you’d expect. There’s a nice squelch to be had out of the phaser when resonance is whacked up, and the stereo delay’s timeshifting mid tail gives some pleasing pitching effects. It might have been nice to see perhaps something like a tweakable overdrive in the synth, and the EQs feel just a little bit redundant when there’s much more powerful options available outside of Oxium, but it’s definitely a nice addition.
Modulation is a strong point of Oxium. Three LFOs are included, and each has a unique characteristic; built in tremolo, auto-wah, or vibrato is available and can be assigned to a unique LFO or stacked to have one ‘basic’ LFO and one with – for instance – vibrato and tremolo, or even one super LFO with all three.
The three LFOs are joined by amp and filter ADSR envelopes and an assignable aux ADSR envelope, six separate source/destination matrices with just about anything able to be modulated by the LFOs, the envelopes, velocity/mod wheel/poly pressure, and interestingly the wave shape that’s kicked out by either of the oscillators. Further to that Oxium has a grid sequencer that has two simultaneous modulators with separate attack and decay parameters, and the grid can be set to 4, 8, 16, or 32 bars at any rate. Something about the grid sequencer feels a little bit fiddly, somehow, but it does provide some extra opportunities.
The arpeggiator is pretty nice too. Following the same principle as the oscillators, there’s a ring around the rate dial which allows multiple selections from down/up/octave/poly, and poly mode, true to form for Oxium in general, makes lush, big sounding evolving patches a chord away. Admittedly there’s not a great deal of versatility in how the arp steps through the notes you input, but there’s octave scaling and swing and for most uses it’ll serve you well.
All in all Oxium is a genuinely rich sounding synth that seems really suited to creating rich, massive sounds. It focuses on advanced subtractive synthesis, so the harsh, avant garde sounds of FM and versatility of fully stocked wavetable synths are out but warm, involving sounds are in. There are quite a few areas in which competition beats Oxium out in the controls available – waveforms, filter types, overdrive, effects, and arpeggiator are all quite basic in their implementation, but Oxium just sounds great at what it does, and it’s better to be great at a few key areas than average at absolutely everything.
Over the course of testing Oxium has actually become a bit of a favourite polysynth at OD, but for all my bleating about its power in creating these big sounds don’t underestimate its power for mono sounds – basses, leads and so on all have big potential. The short version of our Xils Lab Oxium Review: Recommended.
We’re working out our new video review system for software so you can see what we’ve been up to with Oxium, but why not download the demo to try it out for yourself and let us know what you think?