Eventide UltraReverb review: class and flexibility

When it comes to lush and great-sounding reverbs, Eventide is definitely one of the first names that come to mind. When I heard there was a new reverb plug-in featuring algorithms derived from Eventide's flagship hardware processor, the H8000, I didn't think twice and immediately got a copy to install on my computer. UltraReverb, available in native format for AU, VST, or AAX64 for Mac or Windows, features nine hardware-based reverb algorithms (like Halls, Chambers, Rooms, Plates, and Ambience). It comes with an impressive list of presets (approx. 300) created by an equally impressive list of engineers/sound-designers (Andrew Scheps, Brian Montgomery, Charlie May, Chris Carter, Chris Tabron, Chris Zane, Colin Newman, Damian Taylor, Dan Gillespie, Gary Hall, Matt Lange, Peter Bischoff, Richard Devine, Richard X, Roca Sound, and Sasha & Dave Gardener).


Opening the beautifully clean and laid-out interface (kudos to the graphic designer), it's easy to notice that UltraReverb is actually more than a simple reverb unit. In fact, besides the actual reverb section, we have three more 'modules' - delay, eq and compressor - that can all be used pre or post reverb. Usability and flexibility are the keywords here: the GUI is super-easy on the eyes and intuitive to use, and these extra modules (along with bonus features, like the individual on/off toggles for each of the 4 reverb sub-sections, Predelay, Early Reflections, Diffusion, Reverb Tail, or the gritty LoFi control - use it in small doses!) make UltraReverb a versatile tool for all music production needs I could think of.
Don't be afraid of its tweakability though: UltraReverb's presets (split for Buss and Inserts) provide an excellent introduction to its possibilities and let you be productive in a matter of minutes.
What to expect from UltraReverb in terms of sound? As said, the plug-in is pretty flexible. It seems to excel at natural-sounding, short and mid-sized spaces, but being an Eventide product, you can expect some larger/modulated/special-fx kind of magic. Owning other reverb plug-ins, in particular IR-based ones, I have to say that UltraReverb can complement them pretty well. I'd still stick to some of my favorite IRs for certain realistic spaces, but I'd definitely use UltraReverb for most other purposes. Tip: I find it works particularly well in a mix, try it on the one you're currently working on, more than on an isolated test track.


If you're in the market for a classy plug-in (or if you aren't, but you show symptoms of Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I'd definitely consider UltraReverb. There is a demo version available on the Eventide website. Actually, if you're quick, you could grab the plug-in at the bargain price of $79 (60% off) through October 17, 2014.
More good news: UltraReverb doesn't require a physical iLok key. If you happen to have one, you can use it to store the authorisation, but if you don't you can simply use the software-based authorisation which 'links' the plug-in to your machine. Both methods are easy-peasy, you just need to have the iLok License Manager installed on your computer and create an account on the Eventide website (if you are not registered yet).


Conclusion
If you're looking for a professional and versatile algorithmic reverb, you should definitely give UltraReverb a try. Its great GUI and features make it a music-production swiss army knife.

Price
$79 through October 17, 2014. After then, $199.

Product page

PROS
  • Great usability
  • Classy sound and highly flexible thanks to its modules
  • Huge number of presets
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
  • Yes, just when you thought you didn't need any more reverb...
  • No, it's not a H8000, and it doesn't claim to be one, even though it does use some of its algorithms
CONS
  • At $79 it's a bargain, at $199 it may be not a high-priority for users that already own a plethora of quality algorithmic reverbs. Time (and the demo) will tell...

Alchemy libraries pt.3 - More sound delights

We have covered Camel Audio Alchemy and its sound libraries a few times in the past (see pt.1 and pt.2 ). This time we are focusing on Iceland, Water and Dream Voices. Each library features 150 presets (and 1200 variations), and if you haven't got the full version of Alchemy, each sound-pack comes with the Alchemy Player, included for free.
If you are familiar with Alchemy's libraries, you’ll know that when trying a new one you're in for a treat - and these three products are no exception. As usual, while they all share a great attention to details and a certain 'soundscape attitude', each of them boasts its own personality.

Among the ones I've tested this time, Iceland was probably my favorite. Created by Biomechanoid and Deru, it offers 550MB of exclusive sample content recorded around Iceland, including streams, glaciers, caves and an Icelandic girls' choir. As often happens with Alchemy's libraries, synths, soundscapes and pads are the main content. The demo provided on Camel Audio's product page is quite extensive and can give you an idea of the quality and variety of the presets. What I've really appreciated is the organic quality of the sound-design and at the same time the fact that they seem to be working well in a mix, unlike what often happens with very rich-sounding sound libraries. There's definitely a certain 'nordic vibe' in these sounds, and thanks to the 8 remix pads possibilities are, as usual with Camel Audio libraries, almost endless. Browsing Iceland presets, it's easy to go from very beautifully soothing sounds to spooky ones and everything in between.
It's not just about soundscapes though. Simpler sounds like percussions, bass and keys are included as well, making Iceland a complete library. Definitely recommended, and not just for sound-design purposes.



Dream Voices is probably the most creative product of this trio. Featuring nearly 1.3GB of vocal samples, it shows off the individual character and style of four solo female vocalists (Anna-Lynne Williams, Anneke Kampman, Chantal Acda and Elly May Irving). The samples have been carefully treated by a large group of sound designers (biomechanoid, Martin Walker, Nick Moritz, Ian Boddy, Patchen, Simon Stockhausen, Ole Jeppesen, Andre Ettema, Christian Kjeldsen, Corin Neff, Tasmodia, Himalaya), and while in general I tend to lean towards libraries created by a smaller number of sound designers, Dream Voices is definitely a well focused and solid product.
Needless to say, the human voice is the queen of the show here, but in many cases that's just a starting point for the creativity of the designers; expect granular-spectral treatments brought to the extreme, making the original samples often completely unrecognisable.
I'll be honest with you, I'm a sucker for female voices, choirs and such things. If you're like me (and/or you're into heavily processed samples), Dream Voices is definitely a worthwhile addition to your Alchemy library.

Water is - not surprisingly - a water-themed library that collects the work of sound designers like Nick Moritz, biomechanoid, patchen preston, Ian Boddy, Chris Sciurba, Himalaya, Martin Walker, bManic, Luftrum, Corin Neff, Bryan Lee and Ole Jeppesen. Approx. 500 Mb of samples, for a wide range of presets that (like in Iceland) cover mostly soundscapes, pads, fx and synths, but offer also percussive elements, bass and harps (including also a Waterphone clone). A pristine recording and a truly creative manipulation of the samples makes this library a must for those musicians and sound-designers looking for a water-inspired sound experience (and not willing to risk their precious microphones under or near the water!).



Personally, (and this is a very subjective thing) while I appreciate the quality behind Water, I find it slightly less appealing than the other two libraries mentioned above. It could be due to the fact that one of my first keyboards was a Korg M1, and after awhile I couldn't stand that first preset anymore (Universe, with its water-like tail, remember?), who knows?
Again, listen to the demos or check out the helpful YouTube video. I'm sure you'll be able to tell if this library is your cup of tea or not.

Last but not least, if you have an iPad and you are still wondering (like I was) what the best controller for Alchemy is, I would recommend getting the free Alchemy app and buying the Pro Upgrade ($14.99/€13.99). While the free app is a little gem of its own, the Pro Upgrade enables some must-have features like (among many) the possibility to download a mobile version of any desktop Sound Libraries you own for free, and most importantly, allows your iPad to become a remote, wireless controller for the desktop version of Alchemy (be it the plug-in or the Alchemy Player), with all the advantages of having a touch screen to control those remix pads and other parameters. Absolutely recommended!


Conclusion
Another wunder-trio from Camel Audio, for those looking to expand Alchemy's palette. Couple them with the iPad app for a more dynamic performance, and you're in sound-design heaven!

Price
$59/€49/£39 each

Product page

PROS
  • Creative and varied, perfect to spice up your sound-design options
  • Almost endless possibilities, thanks to the sound controls
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
  • Oh well, you may get lost in sound
CONS
  • None, really

Kaivo review: modular granular resonation



We reviewed the brilliant Aalto by Madrona labs a couple years ago.

Their latest synth offering Kaivo blends the two fairly unusual synthesis techniques of physical modeling and granular synthesis together, and plops them in the semi modular structure that Aalto fans will be familiar with. This places the synth squarely in the no-competitors realm: I can't think of a synth that combines these synthesis techniques into one package. Izotope's Iris, and Camel Audio's Alchemy come fairly close, perhaps.

If you've ever experienced Aalto, you'll recognise the layout of Kaivo immediately. Semi modular fun with all those colorful patch chords. Kaivo has a vector based UI - so you can resize the interface to whatever fits your screen. It's quite a busy interface, so the larger you can get it, the better!



The three modules along the bottom of the window are the main sound creating modules.

Granulating

The granulator module acts as the ‘oscillator’, or agitator of the sound being created. Granulation is the manipulation of samples into varying amounts of frequencies that can be time stretched and compressed. In the case of Kaivo, the granulator is a sample table, of up to 4 samples, (there are preset samples, but with update 1.1 it is now possible to load your own) that are most usefully accessed via the '2D lfo’. The XY placing of the LFO will affect where the loaded sounds are sampled, depending on how you cable it. It’s not just a regular LFO either - there are 7 shapes or waves available to modulate the samples. Of course, there are other ways to access the sample table, via the other modulation options: more of which later.

Resonating

The next two modules, the resonator and the body, are the two physical modeling elements of Kaivo. The resonator is modeling the various physical elements of an instrument that vibrate, and begin the sound - strings, bells, and springs. You can add as little or as much of the resonant qualities of these models as you’d like using the wet control.

The BODY module is the resonating space that contains the sound. An organic reverb of sorts. As of this review, there are 4 resonant models - two boxes, a metal plate and a drum. Again, the amount can be added to the sound with the use of the wet knob.

Subtle uses of these two resonant modules can really give lovely organic harmonic overtones to whatever sound you run through it. There are options to raise and lower the tone and brightness of the resonances, alter the sustain and pan also. I would love to see these two modules further developed in terms of available models. I think more are promised for free in future updates.

Modulating

Kaivo would be an interesting synth if you left it there, but of course there are the modulation options along the top third of the synth that give you infinitely more sound mangling routes. The modules along the bottom all have parameters that are linkable to the modulation modules via a virtual patch cabling window that occupies the middle third of the GUI. It’s very intuitive, so I won’t explain the system in much detail: Drag your cable from the modulation source to the parameter you wish to modulate. decide how much modulation you wish to provide by altering the level knob that is present alongside most of the patch points. Listen to crazy sounds. The modulation options are extremely similar to Aalto: A 16 step sequencer per voice, the aforementioned 2d LFO with 7 different ‘waveforms’, a noise module, and 2 envelopes. I wish that the filter module of Aalto was in Kaivo, but I guess there’s a limited amount of space. You can change the brightness of the resonant models, and there is an EQ tilt knob, but there were times when I was just wanting for something to knock a band of frequencies down a bit. There is a speaker-saving limiter for when certain frequencies get resonated to screeching levels. USE the limiter when experimenting!

Here’s a demo of pad sounds - the types of sounds I had the most fun creating in Kaivo!




Conclusion
Kaivo is by far the most CPU intensive synth I own. U-he's Diva previously held that title, but has been swept off it's feet by this hungry monster. I've come to terms with the fact that my old Mac Pro needs replacing - this synth being the latest in a list that the old beast just can't really cope with. Many of the presets had the CPU monitor driven past 100% on the press of one note. On my brand new Macbook air it fared a lot better, but was still power hungry. However, don't let that put you off. As with all modular type synths - this warrants time tinkering with. If you put in the time, delight will be guaranteed with the sounds you get out of it. The presets are ok - but from the time I spent delving deep into the modulation options, and playing with the samples I loaded up, I was richly rewarded with unusual, lovely organic and harmonically rich sounds. I imagine if you had this synced up to the creators beautiful hardware creation - Soundplane, or similar instrument, you could really get the most out of Kaivo.

Price
$129

...This places the synth squarely in the no-competitors realm: I can't think of a synth that combines these synthesis techniques into one package...


Product page

PROS
  • Beautiful and unusual sounds and timbres
  • Modular fun!
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
  • If you're looking for something to create classic synth leads, pads etc, this is not the synth that you're going to want. However, if you’re a bit of a synth aficionado, soft or hard, this synth stands proudly in a corner almost by itself. It’s unusual yet beautiful, and makes some really distinct and deep sounds.
CONS
  • Fairly tricky to learn well
  • Wow where’s my CPU gone?




  • Written by Andy Dollerson

Smooth your sound with Brainworx Refinement



Refinement is essentially a mastering tool for smoothing over any harshness in mixes, by adding tube like saturation and EQ to soften any frequencies that are particularly standing out and painful to the ears! And of course, being a Brainworx plug, it has mid/side capabilities. If you’re not sure about mid/side techniques - this article is great for starters:



The GUI is the usual Brainworx sexy black affair - although this time there is a flickering image of a tube filament in the middle, which lets you know with it’s flickering whenever it’s in action.

Damping

A large knob on the left hand side of the GUI is in charge of damping those pesky frequencies. It seems that the frequencies in question are in the upper mids, and the damping knob is essentially a fixed frequency EQ, centered around the areas that tend to cause the harsh sound. How they decided where to center that comes down to the years and years of combined experience, but it sounds like the 2-4 Khz. There are two character types of filtering - soft and hard, or second order and fourth order, which I think might be like the shape of the EQ bell (kind of like the difference between a 6DB filter and 24DB filter). Either way, it affects the way the damping interacts with the source material, and gives you a couple of options. There is a handy solo button just below it, which gives you the exact audio information that you’re filtering out, when pressed.

The damping can be offset by saturation and presence. They’re not really character-type effects, but more just adding smooth highs, and analog type warmth to offset any dullness caused by the damping. They are both excellent sounding, and really bring life to the mix

The damping can also be modulated, with a dynamic range section that limits the damping to peak levels, with options to control the amount of damping, and the speed at which the dynamic reduction kicks in.

As is essential with Brainworx plugs, there is a Mid/Side button, which enables you to choose whether to affect the sound just in the Mid channel, or to use it on both. For the refinement process it seems that the majority of the time, you’re going to want to remove those harsh frequencies across the stereo space.

There’s also a mix knob, which gives you more control over how much you want Refinement to affect the entire mix.

Oscillator

This is the one section of the plugin that I couldn’t really understand the point of - it has a “what else can we add to this plugin” feel to it. It is possible to use it as a subtle creative effect, like a tremolo vibe. However, for use as a side-chain pumping type effect, I would want more control over how it pumps, to get it flowing better rhythmically. It seems that it’s only a sine wave shape that’s available for the oscillation, which compared to other ‘side chain’ style lfo plugins just doesn’t cut it. There needs to be more options.

The Sound

I found refinement to be a useful tool. I found that it worked best on Drum Buss, Synth Buss and 2 Buss. It does what it says on the tin, gently dulling down the digital edginess of some audio, while at the same time lifting the air and life back out of the sound with the saturation and presence knobs. It’s definitely a subtle operator, and the ‘less is more’ adage works best with this effect.

here’s a great video demoing the plugin:



Conclusion

There is no doubt that refinement is excellent at what it’s designed for. I think it’s most useful at the mastering end of the chain, and can subtly but powerfully change the mix for the better. It strikes me as a sort of 'Waves One Knob’-esque sort of plugin. I think it would be possible do everything that Refinement does, with a lot more in-depth control, with 5 separate plugins. Refinement shines because it’s all there in one plugin. If you have an irritating harshness to a mix or a track, it could really save a lot of time over opening an EQ, then a saturation, then an exciter, then a compressor, etc. I would heartily recommend this plugin as a massive time-saver over being anything groundbreaking and fresh.

Price
$199

Product page

PROS
  • Few tweaks really can smooth the sound
  • Simple and quick workflow
LOVE IT OR HATE IT
  • This is quite a specific plugin. Unless you're looking for something that can quickly smooth out harsh sounds in tracks, you're unlikely to really need it. Having said that, there's nothing else quite like it out there
CONS
  • Not much depth to parameter control
Written by Andy Dollerson