Create a Unique Synth Sound From Any Audio!

Rather than use the basic waveforms in a run of the mill synth, why not create your own rich basis for your instrument to get a completely unique, harmonically full synth sound?

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Quicker Editing in Ableton Live plus Free Slicing Preset!

This week’s Pocket Tip is a neat trick that will save you tons of time in Ableton Live. While we were making the guide I couldn’t help but play around with some of the things it made easier for me to give you guys a little gift on us – a super slicing preset! Carry on reading to download it free! Continue Reading

Heavyocity Evolve

Evolve is, at its heart, a Native Instruments Kontakt Player sound library much like Damage before it. To say ‘before it’ is a bit of a stretch, though, because a Kontakt 2 Player version of Evolve has been around for a few years now. The update we’re reviewing brings it into line with NI’s latest Kontakt Player, version 5, and with it comes a few improvements.  Continue Reading


Review: Propellerhead Reason 6

Propellerhead’s baby feels like it’s been around forever – that said, I remember opening up the beta of Reason 1.0 for the first time like it was yesterday. In the more than 12 year lifespan of Reason, it’s undergone a few major upgrades, but a quick ‘what’s new’ just isn’t good enough for us… Continue Reading

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Review: Teenage Engineering OP-1

I hope you live somewhere cold. Honestly. It makes all the difference if, when removing the OP-1 from its packaging – which is an exercise in artistic design in itself – if the aluminium chassis is cold to the touch. The build quality of the OP-1 is fantastic; it’s unbelievably solid, from the encoders to the buttons, and the OLED screen is beautiful to behold. Does the sound match up to the looks though? Let’s find out.


24/96 DAC/ADC, 3.5mm stereo out, mic/line in, 7 synth engines + sampling engine, 4 effects + 2 master, virtual 4 track tape recording, USB2 for connection to Win/Mac, 16 hour battery (charged via USB)

  • Gorgeous
  • Ambitious
  • Great sounds
  • Fun workflow
  • Minor interface grievances
  • Imprecise sample editor
  • Lack of MIDI sync
Price at Review: €799 Teenage Engineering have really made the OP-1 a labour of love. It’s not, admittedly, the greatest sounding synth in the world, but it’s absolutely capable of killer sounds. The reel to reel system is a bit of a throwback, but it’s got a unique charm that you might just enjoy.
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The aesthetic qualities of the unit are only really only a value adder to the hard and fast audio capabilities of Teenage Engineering’s flagship OP-1, of course. What the OP-1 comprises is eight synthesis engines, a drum machine, effects, a step sequencer, and a flexible recording system that emulates reel to reel tape recording. There’s more besides, such as the gyroscope that can be assigned to many of the parameters, an inbuilt FM radio, internal speaker… It’s a huge amount of stuff to cram into one unit, and thus it’s not surprising that the OP-1 doesn’t have best in class performance of any single feature. What it does do, though, is combine its functionality with its form to enable it to be an inspiring instrument to use – velocity-free note keys notwithstanding.

The OP-1 can have eight simultaneous instruments loaded at once – any combination of the same or different engines that it produces – although it’ll only play one at a time. The synths in the OP-1 are all very simply designed, with an emphasis on making tweaking them fun and easy. Having only four parameters means that they’re not hugely versatile individually, but between them the breadth of sounds that the OP-1 can produce is very impressive.

A run down of each synth engine:
  • String: with the ability to change string taughtness, impulse from a morphing slider of very dull to very metallic sound, impulse decay for wetness, and detune, with the right settings you can achieve some quite realistic string sounds – just don’t expect string concertos to make their way out of the OP-1 any time soon.
  • Pulse: A simple PWM synth, with the ability to modify the width and height of two pulses and modulate the rate at which they shift.
  • Cluster: One of the more versatile engines, Cluster allows you to combine up to six waves and change the envelope to get anything from pizzicato to drone effects. Spread and unitor controls allow you to widen the waves right out and detune them to get expansive sounding patches; it’s good for anything from raspy electro leads to warm atmospherics.
  • Digital: Reminiscent of video game sound chips of yore, digital allows you to play with the wave shape, alter the timbre with ring mod and the octave of overtones, and then dial in ‘digitalness’. Chiptune fans rejoice, basically.
  • FM: As you might expect, there’s a pretty wide range of sounds to be had out of the FM synth, and modulations can provide wild digital sounds. That said, it’s one of the more abstract interfaces – perhaps because FM synthesis is a constantly surprising synthesis method when turning dials anyway, there’s very little to indicate where parameters are at any given point.
  • Phase: Based around putting two sine waves out of phase, the phase synth is capable of some really growly basses. There’s no in-built mechanism to retain the sub bass that is often lost with phase, but there is interesting wave distortion and phase tilt that can really squeal.
  • Dr Wave: An wavetable synth with simple controls for wave shape, filter, phase and chorus; Dr Wave sounds great and really benefits from the wave display on screen, as it really shows you how the synthesis can sound so radically different with small changes in parameters.

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Halion 4.5

Steinberg Release HALion 4.5 Update

We recently reviewed HALion 4, Steinberg’s flagship sampler – and really liked it.

Steinberg have just let 4.5 out of the bag which introduces even more new features

In case you bought it based on our recommendation we thought we should let you know that Steinberg have just let 4.5 out of the bag which introduces even more new features – addressing the user interface issues we had with an improved browser, adding advanced multi processor managements, introducing an audio warping engine based on the one in Cubase 6 (which we spoke about in our review here) increasing the synth’s oscillator count to a maximum of eight. Best of all, it’s a free update, so head over to Steinberg now to get the details…

Steinberg HALion 4

Review: Steinberg HALion 4

It’s been some time coming, but Steinberg have finally released the fourth major update to their HALion sampler. We delved into the new features to see what was what…


Windows (XP/Vista 7), P4 2.4GHz or Core Duo/Athlon64 min / OSX (10.5+) Core Duo. 2GB RAM.

  • Articulation options for natural sounding compositions
  • Integral synth with 3 oscs + sub osc
  • Totally customisable interface layout
  • VST 3.5 support
  • Sample library smaller than competition
  • A couple of UI gripes
Price at Review: £292 HALion 4 is a big update to Steinberg’s flagship, with a lot going for it. We love the synth, and if you’re a Cubase user its value skyrockets due to the VST3.5 implementation.[like action=like]

Rather than cramming all of its features into a standard window or forcing you to memorise different page locations, HALion 4’s modular design allows you to create the sampler you’ve always wanted; the interface splits wherever and however you desire, and you can fill each pane of the main window with the elements of the software that make most sense to your workflow. Editing your samples? Why not a huge sample editing window running along the top of the software? Want an easy HUD for live use? Just arrange macro controls, quick select pads and the instrument rack into prime locations and get rid of the technical gubbins. It was great to be able to make full use of large screen, and saving different screen sets allows for all your use cases to be catered for.

Its inoffensive design, based around muted clay and blue colours, is easy to work with if a little utilitarian. Due to its simplicity we went scouting around the options to see whether we could change the dominant colour (or even colour code certain elements), but alas, no dice.

the modular approach that Steinberg have taken with HALion 4 has really paid off

There are some UI gripes, like a lack of tooltips, non alphabetical sorting of modules, and the inability to resize the main window by simply dragging its edges – as well as the aforementioned single colour scheme – but in general the modular approach that Steinberg have taken with HALion 4 has really paid off, making it potentially one of the easiest to use pro samplers available – providing you can settle on setups long enough to get used to them!

HALion 4’s synth is one of the most powerful additions to the software, and also one of the things that sets it apart the most from other samplers. Three oscillators, a dedicated sub osc, plus ring modulation and a noise generator add up to some very thick sound design capabilities, and rather than adding crazy wave table oscillators – which are often not much use – the traditional saw/square/sine pulse waves are on offer in standard, synced, PWM, CM and XOR variants, allowing pulse width/phase modulations to create unique sounds. It’s a shame there’s no dedicated drum synth controls, but maybe that would be asking too much.

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Review: Native Instruments Battery 3.2

Battery has been around for a long, long time, and has survived more than one rationalisation of Native Instruments’ product line. Battery 3’s been hanging on in there with point releases for a couple of years now, and the recently landed 3.2 update adds in a few more features. We decided to take a look, and get a little refresher course on v3 as a whole while we were at it…


Windows (XP/Vista 7), P4 2.4GHz or Core Duo/Athlon64 min / OSX (10.5+) Core Duo. 2GB RAM.


  • The best software, cell based sample player available
  • Huge library
  • Very nice onboard effects
  • No synthesis
  • Sample pack support appears to be winding down
Price at Review: £149. Battery is the best at what it does, it’s mainly a shame that it doesn’t have a drum synth engine built in.

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As far as drum samplers go, Battery’s had the pleasure of sitting at the top of the pile more or less since its inception. Battery 2 didn’t mess with the original’s winning formula, and Battery 3 has also wisely stuck to the foundations of the software. That foundation is essentially a matrix of sample cells up to 16×8 in size (increased since version 2), which can load a wide variety of audio file formats into them ready for velocity layering, application of effects, and eventually triggering either in standalone mode or by your favourite sequencer. The interface itself is separated into said matrix, at the top, and an edit pane below. Selecting a sample cell brings up its editing options in the multi tabbed pane, and it’s these editing options that have been bolstered most in the 3, 3.1, and 3.2 updates.

velocity level editing is made really simple in Battery

Whilst Battery doesn’t support direct sampling, its sample editor is very powerful and if you’re used to a hardware drum sampler you won’t be disappointed, as sample level editing on a high resolution screen facilitates new levels of precision.Similarly, velocity level editing is made really simple in Battery, with visual cues and a mouse led design, and loop points (four per sample, no less) are very quick to define and set rules for.

Those of you who are still stuck to your hardware samplers for their ease of use and immediacy will find the improved MIDI learn and autoload two of the most useful additions to 3.1 and 3.2 respectively, opening up a much more modern workflow whereby a basic controller pairing is memorised by the software, trumping previous versions’ slightly awkward initial patch setup. Battery’s 16 outputs also come in handy for bussing out individual sounds to effects chains and groups, and with colour coding of cells a simple process, having Battery on a large monitor as opposed to a miniature (and often monochrome) display is a real boon.

Battery has a big library: 12GB of big. Within, you’ll find a huge variety of acoustic and electronic drum kits, and best of all a huge amount of acoustically recorded velocity layers for maximum realism. It’s not the only library you’ll ever need for drums, but it definitely covers most bases.

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Smart Tips: Understand LFOs

From wobbling basslines to subtle, organic sounding sound morphing, the amount of uses an LFO has make it one of the most powerful oscillators on a synthesiser without it even making a sound. Let’s take a deeper look at how they work and how to use them…

First things first, LFO stands for Low Frequency Oscillator
. Unlike the other oscillators in a synth, which operate at frequencies conducive to generating sound, an LFO typically oscillates in single digit hertz. The goal of the LFO is to create a rhythm and shape by which other parameters on a synth or sampler are modulated; most LFOs have four main functions:

Destination. An obvious one, this: you need to create a link between the LFO and whatever parameter you want it to modulate. Some of the most common are pitch and filter cutoff, but different synths have varying parameters that the LFOs can control – from envelopes to oscillator mix and phase – that will fulfill your sound design cravings.

Shape. The shape of the waveform on the LFO defines how the target parameter will move; you can imagine the shape’s up and down movements as your hand adjusting the parameter, and the rhythm with which you do it is defined by the horizontal axis, representing time. Select a sine wave and the parameter will smoothly increase and decrease through its values, select a square and it will switch between them sharply. Many LFOs have crazy, arhythmic waveforms that can be used to create natural sounding changes in a sound.

Rate. Most LFOs allow you to switch between synced and non synced rates, and each is handy for different reasons. Rhythmical effects like wobbing synths are obviously better off synced to tempo, whereas when using an LFO to create surprising and naturalistic changes to a sound, the less of a distinguishable rhythm there is the better. Changing the rate of the LFO on the fly will give you that dubstep rhythmic wobble, and sweeping the rate of an unsynced LFO that’s also set to a weird and wonderful waveform will create a totally unpredictable sound.

Amount. The amount of movement of the parameter, from minimum to maximum, will depend on this dial. Typically, the point at which the parameter you are connecting to the LFO is set is the central point, and so a sine wave will make the parameter travel the whole peak upwards and whole trough downwards from where it is physically set. Some LFO amounts will allow you to set the minimum and maximum separately for even more control. For subtle effects, like for instance simulating unstable oscillator pitch, set the amount to very low. The higher you set the amount the wilder the effect will be.

Example: Wobble Bass

The infamous wobble bass sound is created by making a synth patch that has a low pass filter in its signal. When the low pass filter is static, there is a constant ceiling above which frequencies are deadened out.

Here’s our synth with the filter sitting still:

move it, though, and a sweeping effect occurs as we become aware of that ceiling moving and the tonality of the sound changes.

Rather than sit manually twisting the cutoff knob throughout an entire song, we can ‘attach’ the cutoff to the LFO, which will modulate it for us. Using a sine wave LFO will smoothly raise and lower the cutoff by an amount we specify, so all we have to do is dial the cutoff of the low pass filter to the ‘middle’ of the sound, and adjust the LFO amount to control how wild the sweeping effect is.

Low amount:

High amount:

Next we just set the rate of the LFO, and in this case we want to sync it to the track tempo so that we get a rhythmic wobbling sound. If we change the rate of the LFO as our bassline plays (making sure to get a healthy mix of straight timing and triplet timing to really emphasise the groove) we will be able to change our rhythm as we go!

There you have it; now you don’t just know how to get those wobbling sounds, you also know how an LFO actually works. Now you too can attract the ire of purists everywhere for using wobbling synth sounds in your productions – until they come back into fashion in six months, that is.

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Beat Thang

Beat Kangz Release Beat Thang

You may recognise Beat Thang – it’s been in the making for a while and a software version of it has been available for some time. Finally being released, exclusive to Best Buy (we’re not sure whether that’s an entirely good omen), Beat Thang is an entirely portable studio in a box groove machine.

The design of the Beat Thang is… well, it certainly stands out

The design of the Beat Thang is… well, it certainly stands out, for better or worse. There are some bizarre ergonomic decisions, such as the pitch bend and mod wheels on opposite sides of the unit (and we actually mean sides) and a conspicuous lack of tech specs available; at $1499 we’re not sure how much of a bargain it’ll be. Funnily enough in many ways it reminds us of the Yamaha DJX – if you don’t remember it look it up, it was fun but it was definitely a toy. That said, the video below does show that the unit has potential… Unfortunately we won’t be digging in to the Beat Thang to confirm or deny our suspicions, as review units aren’t being sent out. They’re available from Sunday the 17th, though, so if you live in the USA maybe they’ll have some instore demos…

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