Pros: – Sonically unbelievable – Flexible and deep
Cons: – There is currently no way to create your own macros – UPDATE: Fixed in update 1.2
Having been blown away by Output’s first Kontakt library REV last year – I was very excited to hear that they had a new one out and about.
SIGNAL is a ‘pulse generating engine’ library of samples for Kontakt 5 (Both free player and full version). Signal’s specific intent is to be a creation tool for the pulsing rhythms that create the movement and backbone of many genres of music. Just over 40GB’s of content showcase the organic and electronic pulsing and looping sounds to achieve that intention.
After a simple direct download from the installer provided, you’re faced with Signal’s very pleasant minimal Kontakt scripted GUI. It’s a simple 3-window affair; The engine page, preset page and effects page, all of which contain four large macro sliders in the top half (more on which later) and the bottom half being relevant to the page.
Presets Clicking on the first preset name in the top centre opens the preset window – which contains the same macro sliders, but the bottom half converts to the characteristics grid that you’ll find in many preset heavy instruments today – if you’re looking for dirty organic pulse, hit the necessary buttons, and the menu filters the inappropriate sounds out. upon loading the sound, a quick description pops up at the top, giving the best suggested uses of the particular preset (You should really hit a bass note and low chords, for example). There are 500 standard presets, and there are 2 expansion packs available (currently free with purchase), which add another 250 presets to the bank.
Just a cursory wander through the presets is an encouraging and inspirational sign that Output have not dropped the ball on this one. The sounds are vast in range, the common denominator being, of course, the pulse. There are dreamy washy soundscapes that could contain the majority of a very good ambient track, through to piercing searing and soaring synth Rhythms that would have the dance floor crowded. I particularly loved the way the sounds can either be fully electronic and digital sounding, Organic, gritty, dirty and warm, and a lovely blend of the two. This large and flexible sonic palette was a hallmark of their last instrument, REV. If you want a Zimmeresque DEEP and dark throbbing mass of sound, you can choose whether you want it to cut through as a clean digital wave, or to fester and bubble under an overdriven crushed surface, all with the click of a few buttons that will direct you to a few choices.
Engine SIGNAL consists of two sound engines per patch with a small mixer to layer them together. There are 50 perfectly recorded source sounds to choose from two menus – SYNTH or INSTRUMENT. 25 different carefully considered full synth sounds (not just waves) ranging from gritty SUB bass, poly supersaws, and granular cloud atmospheres, and 25 organic and prepared instruments – felt piano, flute, jazz upright bass, heavy distorted electric guitar etc. All of these source sounds are recorded expertly, from good sources, through what sounds like a lovely chain, to have 50 meaty sounds to start from. All the sound sources are sustained with excellent script work to ensure that you can hardly hear any looping of samples.
From here, there are two rhythm generators per sound. So four different rhythms per preset. There are four ways of creating rhythm – LFO, Step, Arpeggiator, and a really innovative looper. All of these have preset rhythms, or you can create your own with ease. All of these rhythms can then be mixed together and adjusted to create as complex a final sound as you wish. There are too many parameters available at your fingertips to go into in this review, but suffice to say – if you want to create a particular rhythm, you can. There’s nothing stopping you but your own initiative.
Effects Clicking the effects window brings up 9 effects per engine, very cleverly laid out (a single EQ effect for example, with an on and off switch for both engines, defined by their blue and yellow colours, and separate controls for each engine), and a global effects unit providing several different effects to layer on top; the usual effects are there, delays, chorus, phase, compression, EQ, tape saturation etc, but there are some nice and slightly unusual ones such as flutter, and a very impressive sounding convolution reverb. There is a lot of scope to manipulate the sound to get what you want here – massive spaces, to tight piercing lines.
The macro are 4 large sliders that take up the majority of the primary window. With each preset, OUTPUT has carefully considered the best ways that the preset sound can evolve, and combines them into the macro sliders, combining up to 6 processes into one slider for deeper dramatic effect. For example, there’s an OPEN/CLOSED slider that often pops up on the macros, which is effectively controlling resonance and cutoff filter for both sound engines at once. All of the parameters of the macro sliders can be adjusted – when you open the slider, exactly how much resonance you want to add, for example. Very customisable.
Conclusion Sonically, this library is absolutely unbelievable. The source sounds are pristine, and the chopping and manipulating of the sounds is made very easy by a large pool of rhythmic and effect options to choose from. The result is a fantastic mix of organic and electronic sound, with a large and versatile preset library that uses can be found for in probably any music project you’re working on, no matter the genre.
I recently reviewed an excellent synth – Circle2, where the creators clearly spent a lot of time working on ease of use, intuitiveness and useful feedback. I have the same feeling when I’m working with this library – that OUTPUT have spent a lot of time thinking about the work process, and how it could be the perfect balance of ease of use to sound quality, without losing depth and flexibility in the process. If you’re time pressed, and preset hopping, you’ll quickly whittle down the library to get the sound that you want, and then you have 4 macro sliders carefully chosen to get the maximum evolution of that sound. If you want to design, then you can spend a lot more time going deeper to come up with new sounds.
The only downside that I could find was with the macros, and to be honest it is a fairly sizeable downside. There is currently no way to create your own macros, which from a deeper sound design point of view is disappointing. To get the most out of the potential of SIGNAL, I would want to be able to create my own macros that alter whatever elements are available to me, to really get some evolution out of the sounds I’m making. However I have confirmed that this is coming in a future update, and it’s totally worth the purchase in the meanwhile. UPDATE – as promised, the update has arrived, and in 1.2 you can now assign your own macros. Fantastic! This immediately ups the creative ante, and ultimately removes the only issue I had with Signal. Well done OUTPUT!
I have to say, in terms of creativity and thought process, the guys at OUTPUT have outdone themselves, and bettered the excellent work they did on REV. I was absolutely blown away by the ease of creating beautiful pulsing and evolving soundscapes of all atmospheres, with almost no effort. The ergonomics behind the layout, the macros, and the midi capabilities, means that the movement of the sound is equally effortless.
Here’s a walkthrough from Output. Take the time to listen and watch. It’s worth it.
Signal costs $199, and at the moment, you’re getting 250 extra presets for free. Check it out here
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About The Author
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.
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