It's like having the history of the synthesizer (and then some) in your DAW!
- Fantastic sounding emulations with extra features
- Fairly priced and dongle-free
- Poor usability due to aging interfaces
- Some stability and CPU-related issues
Arturia has fairly recently released the latest collection of all its soft synths, including a couple new ones into the bargain. The 8GB V Collection 4 features 6000 sounds coming from 9 legendary analog synthesizers, 1 electric piano, 1 vintage organ, 1 string machine and 1 creative drum machine consisting of 170 drum kits. Among the iconic names represented – Matrix-12 V, Spark2, Solina V, VOX Continental V, Mini V, Modular V, CS-80V, ARP2600 V, Prophet V & Prophet VS, Jupiter 8-V, Oberheim SEM V, Wurlitzer V. Each instrument can be used standalone or as a plugin. For any and all of them, there’s no more dongle necessary! YEAH! Off the bat, it’s apparent that the midi mapping is excellent – and even though it’s set up nicely for Arturia’s own controllers, it’s very easy to use the synths with any controller.
Sound The collection is way too big and deep to review each instrument in proper depth. It’s much too vast and varied. Take for granted, then, that the overall sound is phenomenal, varied, inspiring, authentic and a whole host of other complementary adjectives. I read up a little on the TAE technology that Arturia uses for most of their soft synths. They claim a truer likeness to the original hardware oscillators, filters and soft clipping, both analog and digital. There’s also apparently no aliasing because of the way it’s set up, and at no extra CPU cost. I couldn’t hear any aliasing, which is great. It’s very exciting to pull up a synth that has been responsible for so many iconic sounds, and recreate them right there in your studio. It’s really the best thing possible without spending tens of thousands of dollars, and a lot of time and space owning and using the original behemoths.
I absolutely love the CS-80 and Jupiter emulations. There’s faint chance of me ever owning those keyboards, and I loved scrolling through the presets, getting lost creating my own sounds.
I found that the Spark 2 drum machine is also a standout for me. The second version of this software gives Spark deeper integration with the Arturia Spark hardware, and there is a plethora of excellent kit sounds that you can change to your liking on the studio page. Spark can be used as a sequenced beat maker, paired with a useful collection of effects built around an XY window. Perhaps the best new element of Spark is just a couple of clicks away, where you can start routing and modulating the signal within the drum machine to crazy extents, on a deep modulation page. A great combination of retro drums with very modern flexibility. Overall, these synths are a lovely complement to the more contemporary Native Instruments collection, for example.
Better than reading my descriptions however, you should instead download demos, and spend some time playing and listening. In this review, I’ll focus on the new additions to the collection, and then talk about overall thoughts and impressions as I spent time with the collection.
The newbies The V Collection 4 has expanded its sonic territory with the addition of 3 new plugins, a significant boost to the drum machine, and a ‘one plugin to rule them all’ Analog Lab Library synth.
Arp Solina Made famous from inhabiting a lot of pop music made in the 70’s (and by retro-modern artists like Air, etc.) – this shimmery string sound is instantly recognizable.
Consisting of the original 5 preset sounds, plus the Humana preset, from the Polymoog.
In essence, the Solina was a simple instrument (that became magic when musicians started adding some extra modulation FX to it). With the click of a button, Arturia has added an advanced section that pops up, allowing the addition of LFO (vibrato, trem etc), Bass cutoff, and resonant LP filter on the bass section. There’s a resonator section (also from the Polymoog) for the upper end of the keyboard. It’s a lovely sound – adding or filtering resonances across the frequency range. There is a couple of effects slots, with varying chorus, delay and reverb.
The Wurlitzer V
This video demonstrates the authenticity of the Wurlitzer sound. Having used a Wurlitzer many times, and owning several other emulations, I can say that this is the nicest and closest yet. It’s a straight ahead affair. Upon opening the plugin, a basic pure Wurlitzer sound is opened. It sounds great – a lovely combo of grit and warmth, with that thin edge that sets it apart from Rhodes. That’s what you want from the foundation of an electromechanical emulation – a good foundation.
From there, with a few clicks, effects appear in faux pedal form under the body of the Wurlitzer. The sound quality and variety is excellent – there are 5 slots to add pedals in serial, and you can alter the order of pedals. You can also add an amp simulator to give more grit and warmth. Very nice. All of this is midi mappable. I don’t have a guitar pedal controller, but I imagine it would translate across fairly easily.
Oberheim Matrix 12V The Matrix is a very popular old analog polysynth, fetching ridiculous sums on eBay. It has 12 voices, each with 2 oscillators, 15 different types of LFO, and most impressively 15 different filter types. There are 6 effects to add richness to the end product, but the most exciting element of the matrix is hinted in the name. The modulation routing options and setup are magnificent. The advantages of soft synths are shown here, as there’s an additional mod page, where you can see what routings you’ve chosen, and tweak as desired. The graphic layout makes it very clear what’s going on. The modulation takes center stage of the GUI – and as with other midi and routing setups with Arturia’s stuff, it’s very well designed. I felt like the setup for routing was about as out of the way as it could be, with a couple clicks all that was necessary to get things going. There are 27 sources and almost 50 destinations for your modulating madness! This definitely deserves spending some time with, if you’re into routing and creating audio madness.
As far as I can tell, Arturia has tweaked the GUI to differ slightly from the original layout – to give more immediate access to some parameters. It’s not as clean as the original layout, but I think that was beneficial for mouse clicks and a screen. And the sound quality is just marvelous (that’s why it deserved to win one of our Sonic Joy 2014 awards in the best synth category!). It’s lush for pads, piercing for leads and bass – and of course very 80’s sounding – as it featured on so many records back then!
Analog Lab Remember Native instruments Kore? Analog labs has taken some of the core (no pun intended) elements of Kore, and created a library for all the instruments in the collection. This is a great concept – if you are just starting with the collection, or you are a preset hunter, and are looking for a particular sound, this is the place to start. Looking for a soft, quiet pad sound? Click the tags, and several hundred presets from across the synth line present themselves. You can filter out synths you don’t want to narrow the choice further. There are most useful parameters assigned to a set of knobs for each sound, and if you want to tweak further you can open up the specific synth to edit fully. Analog labs is designed to integrate (and change GUI) with all the different Arturia hardware controllers. But with the excellent midi editing, you can use any controller. Analog labs has a multi function – where you can layer and split different sounds from different synths to create even more sounds. There’s a live mode that you can add single sounds and Multis too – compare with MainStage say. Analog lab isn’t new, but I thought it a very useful catchall plugin and standalone that enables Arturia to successfully bridge the gap between live performance and preset library.
Thoughts Arturia has a great thing going here – I’ve already run out of superlatives regarding sound quality. It’s easily the fullest collection of authentic sounding emulations. However, I had several thoughts regarding the software, and I wanted to bring them up here:
CPU - while TAE, and routing flexibility is a really excellent combination, I find it hard to believe the claim that they’re creating excellent models of oscillators and filters without a larger hit to CPU. Several times my brand new 6-core 3.5ghz Mac pro couldn’t cope with the hit from one or two notes on certain synths. I think that sadly the Matrix had the most issues. All that delicious modulation comes with some serious energy cost. Perhaps different quality settings, or multicore settings might be a possibility?
Stability – In the midst of writing this review, Arturia sent out an update, which eased some of the problems that I encountered. But, looking around community forums, and Arturia’s own support forum, I discovered I was not alone in my various struggles. One of the major issues was one of crashing – upon changing plugins from one Arturia creation to another, the DAW would just crash. Before the update, it was almost every time. Now it’s a lot less. More like one in twenty times. So good job Arturia. Keep going. Another issue I’ve had is the losing of presets. I would leave working on the DAW; come back later, and the preset had gone. Hmmm. That hasn’t changed much in the update, and that is potentially serious, if you’re needing to archive sessions, and come back to them in the (fairly) distant future, expecting to have kept the original sound presets stored. Having used a lot of computer based equipment on tour, I’m still a little skittish when it comes to computers on the road. The current slight lack of stability prevents me from wanting to use in a live situation at the moment, until I’ve spent more time with it, and it’s lost the whiff of flakiness about it.
Skeuomorphism – while I like it to some extent, to get a hint of the history of what you’re using – I think that Arturia has to some extent hurt the efficiency of their user interface by cluttering the GUI with twirling fans, and compartments that open and close, and swinging cables. It distracts from making the sounds, and also takes up screen real-estate that could be put to better use, in my opinion. This I found the most disappointing aspect of the synths. It’s a very tough decision to make – the creators want to retain the history and excitement of working with vintage synths. But the reality is, it’s on a computer screen, and the translation from hardware to software just doesn’t work sometimes. I got particularly frustrated with the CS-80 and Jupiter emulations. I think they’re fairly old designs, but I would suggest an urgent GUI update – as they really do sound fantastic. I wonder if had I owned the original hardware, it would have been more intuitive, but I definitely spend more time working the signal path out than I wanted to. It’s clear that the GUI’s have got considerably better as the years progress – to me the worst is perhaps the CS-80 seen below, which is from 2005.
It’s just too much crammed into a small window. In my opinion, some updates to the GUI – creating more real estate by removing the ‘fans’ and maybe the keyboard, perhaps moving away from the representational image of the CS80, and introducing some drop down menus, creating adjustable window sizing, and so on, would inspire a smoother workflow. As it is, working with the CS80, (especially on an 11-inch laptop) is frustrating at best.
The update software ASC is a big improvement on dongles, although half way through testing it out, the software suddenly and inexplicably said it was not registered, and couldn’t be used, and it wasn’t until I opened up the ASC software that I discovered it was because there was an update available. That was a weird quirk that I could have done without.
Conclusion I have no problem saying that the quality of sound across the whole collection is sensational, and obviously that is the most important aspect of sound creation software! Please don’t read this review as a negative one. I just feel that at the moment, the balance between sound quality, and stability/usability is out of whack. I feel the collection is let down slightly by some aging (skeuomorphic) GUIs, and a lack of stability that although it’s obviously being worked on gives me a slight lack of trust when potentially using in any serious (read paid) capacity. Companies such as Apple have in the past worked hard on particular OS updates to only introduce bug fixes, speed optimization and stability rather than new exciting elements, which builds customer loyalty and trust. Arturia is in the midst of exciting times branching out into new fields of hardware and software, and I think it would be fruitful for them to spend some time solidifying and building on their current software.
Having said all this, I think that the sheer quality and variety of timbre and tone from this collection makes it a very competitive product, that is worth the cost. I have hopes that as time progresses Arturia will continue to address issues, and establish the V-collection as an absolute must buy.
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.