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Getting In Deeper with Soft Synths


Mad_Maestro

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Currently I am 100% hardware synths. My trusty Yamaha S-80, Alesis QS-6 and my just for fun Roland SH-201 for virtual analog.

 

Several years ago I purchased a laptop, Kompakt, and a Midi interface to get me aquainted with soft synths. The first laptop is obsolete and died, Kompakt wouldn't let me register it on my new laptop because they changed the way they did copy protection and it was no longer a supported product, and my Midi Interface won't work with Windows 7.0 now.

 

I wouldn't mind trying soft synths again if I could get them to last for several years and that includes the midi interface. I spent probably $200 on Kompakt and $200 on the midi interface. I barely got to use it. This probably doesn't seem like a lot of money, but I wanted to get some advice on a library of sounds or synths that would last awhile, as well as a midi interface. I never did get a midi controller per se I just used my exisitng synths.

 

What recommendations do you have for a decent aray of sounds like piano, rhodes, wurli, B-3, progressive rock synth sounds, I'm a real fan of synthy pad sounds for around $400 and also what midi interface do you recommend. I'm looking for something that will last without too many upgrades if thats possible. I'm looking for something that can play as a standalone not a plug-in to a daw, but I could be swayed otherwise. Also I've heard about auto map with midi controllers. Should I get some type of midi controller to adjust all types of parameters or am I ok using my S-80 for piano stuff and QS-6 for synthy stuff. If I do get a midi controller is it simple to use all the levers and knobs because of auto map or is it that your really on your own and it takes a while to customize.

 

I assume its easy to do splits and layers with most soft synths.

 

I want to get into some of the excitement of making music with softsynths without something that becomes unusable in a few years and thus breaking the bank.

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What interface do you have that doesn't work with Windows 7?

Kompakt is discontinued but AFAIK it will still work. Post a question on the Native Instruments user forum with the specs of your new laptop/desktop.

 

If you haven't fallen out with Native Instruments (the Kore userbase ain't a bunch of happy bunnies) - check your upgrade price from Kompakt to Kontakt. There's lots in the library that comes with it.

 

The spilts and layers question - try Cantabile as a VST host. There's a "lite" version so you cans see if it does enough for you.

 

Pianos - Truepianos and Pianoteq both have demos. Before I went for TP I used a piano soundfont of old Akai samples and SFZ to play it - it was fine.

 

Try the demo for OP-X (synth).

 

VB3 is well worth a look (organ).

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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Sampler: NIs Kontakt is the de facto standard, and comes with a huge sample library. While they tend to update about every 18 months, in the past four years the only significant difference IMHO has been the addition of 64 bit support, so you dont need to upgrade if you dont need to. 32 and 64 bit versions. Only beef: NI just started to encode all their sounds in huge encrypted libraries so you cant just rip out the samples that a particular song uses and save it with your song so that you know you always have the patch (ie in case NI decides not to support that particular sound in an update, which has happened a number of times to me). Theres a big reason NOT to update!

 

Synth: Theres no de facto standard here, although NI Massive and U-he Zebra 2.5 are popular, flexible, and easy-to-program (Massive easier, Zebra more flexible as a semi-modular). I bought Zebra 4 years and received all my updates for free. I bought Massive just over 4 years ago, stopped using in favor of Zebra, and then went back to it because its still very flexible and dead-fast to program modulations. If you go with Kontakt and Massive then you should check out Komplete. 32 and 64 bit versions.

 

Organ: GSis VB3 is wonderful, but is 32 bit, so must be jbridged to work in a 64bit host. Since I value stability over sound (the guitarists play over any subtleties) I use the vintage organ samples in Kontakt now.

 

Piano: I really like Pianoteq. I bought Play! for $99 two years ago. It came with a free update a year ago, which ticked me off because it wasnt compatible with presets I saved in my previous version, and as far as I know provided no additional useful functionalitylive and learn. Physically modeled so loads almost instantaneously, unlike many large sampled libraries. 32 and 64 bit versions.

 

Host: I use Cantabile Solo. Bought about 5 years ago for $99. Free updates ever since. 32 and 64 bit versions. You dont strictly need a host if youre using standalone VSTis, but then you lose the ability to have a midi-programmable song switching and a consistent interface to trigger one-shot sounds, layer instruments, program splits, and have a built-in media player for practicing, arps, etc.

 

So in summary, over the past 4-5 years, Ive only paid to update one set of softsynths (Komplete), and I dont plan on doing it again for a long timeit might take the introduction of a new audio bus format (not ASIO) or 128 bit OSs to make me update NI since they started encrypting their libraries.

 

I have just a fraction of your live gigging experience, but I haven't found a need for an audio or midi interface. I use the built-in soundcard in my Thinkpad and connect that directly to my QSC K8's (I have a Furman power conditioner and use a Radial DI box for isolation/protection for my laptop). I can't hear the difference when I A/B'd with a dedicated audio interface several years ago (it was an M-Audio) and that means one less kernal-mode driver issue to content with.

 

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Yes. They're terrible. Only worked with a few that were "on stage volume" aware.

 

Go through the PA and don't try and compete for volume on stage. Keep your monitor/combo amp pointed at your head and close by so you can hear what's going out front. If they complain they can't hear you on stage - it's your opportunity to have the "volume" chat.

 

The sound engineer may be able to keep things under control out front - until you're running the band (or the vocalist is) ... hang in there. It's like jobs - I've found that it's easier getting another one if you have one already. It's been the same with me for paid work in bands - if you're out there with someone - even the Marshall stack crew - chat to people and be open to having a jam with other groups of musicians. You'll get other offers.

 

There are guitar players out there who don't play at silly volumes. Even in the Hard Rock / Metal scene.

 

Do you use or have you tried the latest ear protection (for musicians) - big price drop here. I've a set that work great - can hear everything (just quieter) - and they were just over £10 from Boots.

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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Just to get terminology clear, when you say "MIDI interface", I'm pretty sure you mean "Audio interface" (most of which have MIDI I/O somewhere on the box). As stillgigging said, it would help if you told us your interface make and model.

 

Regarding MIDI controllers:

 

Note that "Automap" is Novation-specific functionality, but some other brands have similar mapping tech. Personally, I find this stuff to be a huge P.I.T.A. I just set my controller to use a fixed set of MIDI ccs and make the software respond.

 

I would hold off on getting a controller unless your S80 or QS6 don't provide enough controls for live performance (and even then, I wouldn't buy another _keyboard_... probably just a box with knobs). I find that even with a controller I don't have enough knobs, sliders and buttons to do EVERYTHING with a soft synth, so I end up using the mouse for sound _design_ and then map parameters relevant to _performance_ to a handful of controllers.

 

NI Komplete 8, for a little less than $400, is a pretty amazing deal. It'll cover Rhodes, Wurli, pianos, and synth needs. I'm not wild about NI's sampled organ sounds, but VB3 is very affordable and just rocks the socks off the fox in and out of the box!

 

BTW, AAS's UltraAnalog is a worth a look for pure synth stuff.

http://www.applied-acoustics.com/ultraanalog/overview/

 

The good news is that there are demos for so many software instruments and hosts like CAntabile. You're just a download away to see whether it's something you can use.

 

No option is totally future-proof. I tend to see a soft synth rig as a semi-closed system. You load it up with stuff that works and works together, and learn to be happy with it. :)

 

-John

 

 

 

 

 

 

I make software noises.
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