The smallest of details really matter in music. So I thought this week I would drop a quick blog to tell you about something that has got me excited recently. This is kinda like a review, but as you know we don’t usually do reviews…this is more me just wanted to tell you about a cool new tool I found. Maybe we will do more maybe we won’t….
I believe it’s often the smallest things, the tell-tale signs and the minute details that matter so much to how something really sounds. If you get the small details right it can make things sound real (legit) to the listener and make your music can soar. Conversely it is in this area that digital, DAW’s and VST’s have been most wanting since their inception. The whole idea of digital audio technology is that it adds nothing to the sound that it creates, and it can record a signal almost perfectly that has never been its problem. In many ways its too perfect, especially when generating sound from VST for example. So we get our own uncanny valley or Data from Star Trek effect, and to human ears that are well versed in listening to sounds and hearing the reality of physics in the audio all around them in life. These perfect sounds can often be a bit weird, sterile or boring. Things can sound too perfect and not right at all in musical terms. A lot of the subtle distortions and other effects we had from analogue equipment was actually quite musical, it was nice – we liked it.
We don’t usually like to talk about VST here, we are firm hardware lovers on sound quality alone. This is why in this blog it is the first time we have commented on a VST, we love great sound… in fact above anything else such as convenience… options etc. etc…. A fundamentally great sound is the most important factor by a long long way. Nothing else matters really, so when I got excited about a soft-synth after so many false dawns in this area, I just had to share it with you guys.
DIVA is a new soft-synth from the well-known VST developer Uhe, it is a semi modular setup, and offers quite a lot of flexibility in terms of the sound you can get out of it. Initially set out like your standard subtractive synth with, oscillator sections, filter, and envelopes in the main window, it looks pretty standard in terms of what you would expect and therefor is pretty easy to start using, but it’s when you start to dig you realise this thing is a bit of a beast.
DIVA was modeled on a few different, but classic and sought-after synthesisers… most are from the golden age before everything went a bit down-hill. So when you’re using this you will find you options from a different emulations. Off the top of my head there are individual sections for the Mini Moog, Jupiter 8, Jupiter 6, Alpha Juno and MS-20. What they have done is model the actual internal circuitry and component of each section of each synth… so the Filters of the MS-20, the envelopes of the Jupiter 8, giving you the ability to swop and change things as you work, so you could have your lovely moog lead, but with Jupiter 8 filters…. now do you see the possibilities? But we have heard claims like this many a times before, and if the core, fundamental sound isn’t spot on…all this flexibility counts for less.
This kind of modular ability in the digital world is nothing new, and we often see developers trot out with their latest VST touting “analogue” sound replicating the greats from the past, but as was often the case it was the same old plastic digital rubbish. Don’t get me wrong – I am sure the developers were trying but, for the most part, failing… until now (well almost).
To have this Modular ability with so many great sounding synth modules with a fraction of the sound and personality of the original kit would equal the absolute be all and end all of VSTs.
DIVA is almost there… I cannot say that DIVA has it all in terms of the sound, but for the first time in years a VST has excited me. They have managed to emulate some of the musicality and excitement that was inherent of the hardware components used to create the originals. They have managed to capture some of the spirit of what was in these things and that alone is a first in VST in my book. Even with simple basic sounds, the thing has a certain edge which makes it stand out.
Now before anyone gets carried away, DIVA is probably the first big step forward in realistic analogue character emulation inside the computer that any developer has taken, so this needs applauding and shouting about… and most of all building upon. There is a long road ahead still before you see people selling off there Jupiter.
When the original synth makers themselves – Roland – cannot build upon the musical legacy their synths created and end up just changing to the latest technology, it’s a breath of fresh air when a software developer can finally add something in the musical excellent department, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
The new tech in DIVA – Filter
One of the main areas that DIVA has progressed in terms of the core sound is its filter(s); using a new algorithm for processing the sound of the filter they are getting a much more accurate emulation (in relation to the original hardware) and it’s a great sounding result for a VST. This new way of calculating the filter is actually the main cause of the heavy CPU hit DIVA has (although in the latest version this was alleviated somewhat with multi-core options), although it’s a big step forward, yes there are still many better sounding hardware filters, but there is nothing better in the DAW in my humble opinion. I just hope they release the filter on its own, or add an Audio In to DIVA. I will quite happily put up with the CPU hit of this thing, because it’s all about the quality and this does offer something you cannot get in your DAW at the moment.
The oscillators themselves actually sound great, fundamentally their sound is more robust than most soft-synths and that fundamental sound is what’s most important when it comes to getting a good hardware-like sound. Uhe’s emulation is exacting and most of all I get the impression that the design of the rest of the soft-synth was done with such care as to make sure that the kind of distortions and that can often happen inside a VST are not ruining a fundamentally good sound they have crafted.
In my own studio I run half hardware / half software, trying to gel the two and take the best from both, which up until now has meant using the PC as a glorified tape machine and using any plugins very carefully whilst relying on the sound of hardware at the core. As of today… DIVA is the first VST synthesisers which can stand up with and actually provides a good VST workhorse for you to use alongside hardware. It’s not all the way there yet… but this is software and these guys are still working on it. Not to mention the wide sonic palette included with the synth. If the amount of patches the community and professional patch creators made for DIVA is anything to go by then they are as inspired by the sound and prospects of this new synth as I am. So keep your hardware but if you have to use one VST synth, checking DIVA out might be the best thing you could do.
It is not often that I talk about VST’s in this way – this blog is all about the finer points of production where the small things matter and we love great sounding analogue gear(slutz) but we also wont dismiss the power of the computer as long as it sounds good. DIVA is actually one of the first, and currently the exception when it comes to getting a good analogue like sound from computer based synthesizers… the first soft synth that can gives you a little of that has to be a good thing.
Check her out – http://www.u-he.com/cms/113-diva-news