Absynth 5 – Beyond sound & interface…

It’s only been a week…

Screenshot of the Absynth 5 package.Last week the Native Instruments company pulled a rather daring stunt indeed; applying a 50% discount on a large product selection for a period of 5 days.

The results were chaotic so to say, and many people were able to profit just like many other people simply couldn’t make their way into the chaos.

After giving it some serious thought I decided to pick up on the Absynth 5 instrument. Not that I was really looking around for expansions, but considering the situation and given the fact that Absynth comes with a certain reputation I felt that I shouldn’t let this opportunity pass.

So, after having enjoyed Absynth for a few days I think now would be a good time to share my experiences and overall opinion.

Absynth 5 logoAbsynth (find the official product page here) is a software synthesizer of which the authors claim that its “exceptional” and “unique“.
The main things which make it stand out from the crowd, according the
authors, are obviously its sound generating capabilities (being capable
of using ‘multiple synthesis and sampling methods‘), its filters and effects, the browser (“KoreSound Browser“) for finding all the presets and the envelopes section.

But instead of so many other reviews lets not get ahead of ourselves..  We’re talking about a software synthesizer here, and like many other programs out there this synth requires to be installed first.

Installation

I never did get to understand why the official Absynth “logo” contains both a rough screenshot as well as a box given the fact that this program isn’t shipped out on CD or DVD but actually requires a download.  The download gets you a single executable file.

After starting it will present you the option to point it to a location where you want Absynth to get installed, point to where the plug-in part (‘vst’ or ‘rtas’) needs to go and then all you need to do is wait for the installer to finish.  After its done the only thing left to do is to activate your program. This is done by using the Service Center program. In a way you could consider this program to be the heart of your ‘Native Instruments gear’; it keeps track of the programs you installed, the license(s) you have for these programs and it can check if there are any new updates available.

All in all its very easy to use and the process of activating your Absynth requires little more effort than starting the service center, looking up the serial key which has been sent to you by e-mail and typing it all into entry box in the program. After that you’re good to go!

However, there are a few caveats to be aware off…

Although the installer claims that you can place the installation in a specific location (in my case this was “D:\Program Files\Native Instruments\Absynth 5”) the result may very well not be what you expected.  Sure, the program and its documentation (roughly 80Mb) get
installed in the place you told it to.

But all of its data (the included presets and samples) get installed to a pre-determined and somewhat hidden location. All 850Mb of it.

I don’t consider this to be very user friendly given the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any need for it. As you can see here the program
itself perfectly allows you to point it to a specific sample and library directory.

So the “hidden” default directory of “C:\Program Files\Common Files\Native Instruments\Absynth 5\Samples” was quickly moved to the location you see here. And the same obviously applies to the “Libraries” directory.

Why they decided to hard code this is way beyond me..  Perhaps they feel that their user base isn’t smart enough to decide for themselves where they want to put their data?

Another very important reason why I think this to be unwanted behavior is the issue of backups. Sure; you can backup your entire hard disk using something like Windows backup or such. But the moment you need to restore a single file things may turn out not be so easy anymore.

Instead I prefer using programs like Winrar to backup specific parts of my
gear. This specifically includes directories which contain data I paid for. Like, in my case, Ableton Live’s library. And as such also the Absynth library and samples directories.

But in Windows this is not an easy task if you leave things set to Absynth’s default settings.

What version shall we use?

After you finished the installation process you’ll end up with Absynth in all its different forms; it is available as both a stand alone program as well as a plug-in. I’m only using the VST variant, but it supports RTAS as well (‘Real Time Audio Suite’; plug-ins specifically for the ProTools DAW).

The advantage here should be obvious; if your only aim is to do sound design you can now do so outside of any other program. In this case stuff like latency and such shouldn’t be of any concern; after all, now its all about the way you create and setup your sounds and effects…

And as if this isn’t enough; the moment you do use Absynth as a plug-in you can use it both as an instrument as well as a sound effect. Versatility is the name of the game here.

What managed to get my attention right from the start was how well both versions (stand alone & VST) behave and how extensive everything is. I started with the stand alone version myself to check out the main aspects of the program. I setup the audio to use the Asio driver, activated my midi devices and then started playing around a bit.

Then I quit the program, fired up Ableton Live and pulled in the VST. Smoothless…  The reason why I noticed this was because this is the number one annoyance for me whenever I’ve used Reason in a stand alone session; if I don’t take good care to unassign the midi devices it will give me several errors during startup, even though its being started as a rewire slave.

A different kind of synthesizer

Absynth is indeed quite different than most of my other synth’s I’ve worked with. I think the work flow itself is proof of a very high quality; there are many specific details which have been taken into account with this critter. Here you can see the main sections which make up the synth. I’ll be going into more detail on the browser, patch, wave, envelope and lfo sections.

Now, before I continue; I’m well aware that some of the details I mention here are actually specific features which are available throughout the entire Komplete environment (so in all of its components). However, my main focus here is with Absynth so I won’t be paying any attention as to what features are common or specific for Absynth.

The first thing which springs out after you started Absynth (also see the screenshot at the top of the article) are the categories in the browser. To the left side of the screen there are 5 columns which represent Instrument, Source, Timbre, Articulation and Genre. And at the right side of the screen is the column in which all the available presets are displayed.

This is all about a large amount of presets and providing a solid way to find whatever you’re after. It may take getting some use to, but its been my experience so far that this is actually a very straight forward way to find whatever you’re after.

For example; are you looking for fat lead sounds?  Couldn’t be easier; check out the ‘Timbre’ column and you’ll find an entry ‘fat’ in there. Click it. The entry gets selected and the presets displayed in the right column change; now it only shows you presets which qualify as providing a ‘fat’ sound. Next find ‘Lead’ in the Articulation column and click that as well. Once again the list of displayed presets changes; this time it filters out all the presets which also qualify to providing a lead sound.

What you did here was applying specific filters. Only those presets which qualify as providing a fat sound and something useful as a lead sound are being displayed. You can refine this any way you want. Are you looking for something useful in electronic music?  Find ‘Electronic’ in the ‘Genre’ column and click it.

And of course you can also simply type in a name in the search field at the top after which any presets matching this name will be displayed.

Sound design taken to the max…

But this was only about presets; using a synthesizer is obviously all about designing your own sounds. From scratch preferably.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Absynth can easily satisfy that demand as well.

Everything you need to design a sound is displayed in the ‘patch’ section, you can see an overview to the left. Here you have 3 oscillators at your disposal, these are displayed at the top, and each oscillator can use up to two different filters. These can be inserted in the entries on the second and third row.

Finally you have the master at the bottom. Here you have the option to insert 2 global filters and finally a global effect.

While these amounts may not seem impressive, their implementation sure is!

To the left you can get an impression of the several waveforms which are available within an oscillator. There are literally dozens of waveforms to chose from.

First there are the so called ‘simple waves’. Here you can find entries like the sine, triangle and several variations of the saw and square which are read from a wavetable.

All waveforms in the first tab are basically single cycle waveforms. The second tab is called ‘Morph waves’. These entries are waveforms which actually consist of 2 or more waveforms which were “blended” (or ‘morphed’) together. Needless to say that this process results in very specific sounds.

And finally we have the waveform library on the last tab. If you have created a specific waveform then you can export this so that you can share it with others. All of that is done using the library.

Waveform editor.Now, people who know me a little better are aware that Ableton’s ‘Operator’ synth is one of my favorites.  One of the features I happen to enjoy within Operator is the ability to create your own waveforms.

Well, look at this screen shot!

Absynth took the very same context yet extended the principle in ways I’ve never seen before. You can fully draw the waveforms in here; if you look closely at the top of the screen (under the ‘waveform’ tab) you’ll notice 3 icons. These are drawing tools. Want to draw curves, a straight line or move the amplitude?

Operator’s “additive wave design” is impressive, but this sure manages to take the whole “wave drawing” into totally unexplored regions (from within a Ableton Live context).

Spectrum editorAnd just when you thought that the big caveat with drawing waveforms manually would be a massive lack of precise control (a very realistic argument) Absynth turns out to be way ahead, as can be seen here.

This is the second part of the waveform editor; the spectrum editor. If you thought the waveform editor was impressive…

Every vertical line is an harmonic entry. 64 in total (yes Operator fans: the same amount). The yellow lines on top determine the amplitude whereas the blue lines (at the bottom) control the phase.

Keep in mind: one editor affects the other. Meaning: if you make changes in the spectrum editor then these will affect the drawn waveform and vice versa.

Controlling the waves

Dear reader; have you ever heard of “enterprise (based) solutions” ?  Its a term which is often used within the computer sector, especially when focusing on servers and server aimed operating systems and their components. For example; a well known webserver is Apache. A well known enterprise level webserver is the Sun Webserver 7 (or Sun Java webserver). Enterprise computing can have many different meanings and as usual many people have their own ideas about it. To me it boils down to: making server administration as straight forward as possible. For example; making sure that you can apply your knowledge and expertise right away without having to fall back on dry theory. Time is money after all..

Now, why the whole computer lecture you’re wondering ?

ADSR chart.

Here you have a diagram pointing out something everyone who takes himself even slightly serious when it comes to (electronic) music should be aware of: ADSR. Absynth 5 provides a clear envelope screen in which you can alter the envelopes for whatever effect you had in mind, obviously this includes the amplifier envelopes for the main oscillators. Nothing special you’d think…
Here you see the envelope section of Absynth. At the left you can see the list of oscillators and effects which have been assigned an envelope. The envelopes for all 3 oscillators are shown. Do you notice the purple line which is visible in at least the top and bottom envelope sections ? Whenever you play a note this purple line will move through the envelope so that you can see exactly what kind of effect it has on your material.

In this particular case you may make out at the top that the A (attack) and D (decay) are close together and followed by the S (sustain) which is the slowly downwards going curve. In other words: as long as you keep a note pressed the sound’s sustain will slowly but steadily lower and thus dim the sound.

That is enterprise (based) computing for you. You shouldn’t be bothered with having to think about details like if you’re using decay or are actually still within the sustain range. All you need is to know what ADSR stands for and apply your knowledge accordingly. Everything else will be made clearly visible thus ruling out any common mistakes on this matter.

A peek under the hood

All in all Absynth can provide a very good addition to anyone who wants to expand on his gear with a synthesizer which has some out of the ordinary capabilities…

Absynth 5 LFO section.I promised a peek at the LFO’s as well, I’m showing you the controls to the left but won’t get into much detail as of now since most of this should be fairly obvious. More details will follow though in upcoming Absynth tutorials.

Absynth waveform shown in my M4LScope.Here you see what the “saw_real” waveform from Absynth looks like when I display it using my M4LScope patch within Ableton Live. This patch isn’t very high graded, but you can still see that in its basic form Absynth produces a very clear and crisp sawtooth.

Operator waveform displayed on my M4LScope.

And to give you a good comparison here you see what the same kind of waveform looks like when its produced by one of the Operator oscillators (using the “Saw D” waveform).I think the resemblance is quite striking. In fact, after having performed a few tests I noticed that in its basic form Absynth’s Saw wave will even react in the same manner as Operator when its being used within a phase modulationsetup in combination with Ableton’s Analog synthesizer.But you’ll get more details about that investigation at a later time.For now this concludes my review on Absynth.

The verdict

Now, naturally I can’t really base a fair final opinion on it after having played with it for only a few days. I know there are many reviewers out there who will easily take even less time than that (given their reviews and failing to mention the stuff I just told you) and still come with a verdict but alas..

I can say that Absynth 5 is one of a kind. While playing with Absynth in the past few days I have to say that I slowly started to get more and more admiration for Reason. A lot (but not everything) which Absynth has to offer is also perfectly possible to build within Reason. And if you consider that Absynth is normally approx. 2/3’rd of the price of Reason…

It provides very good sounds and effects, it has an outspoken work flow which really make several aspects a breeze to work with and most of all its very diverse. Whether you’re looking for simple but specific sounds or are aiming at building whole soundscapes; this is definitely the better tool.

And that’s not even mentioning what crazy stuff the envelope section allows you to do.

On the downside however is the rather steep pricetag. I got lucky in that I could grab it at 50% off but with its normal price ranging around E 170,- it is an investment indeed.

Which brings us to “is this worth it?”.

I have some doubts there. During my testing of Absynth I came across several caveats (one being mentioned above) as well as a few bugs which both struck me as rather odd. It is too early for me to be able and fully rule out mistakes on my part, so I’m not sharing the “possible would-be bugs” until I have at least a few weeks experience on Absynth.

If you’re after sound design and are looking for a specific “no nonsense” environment to do so where this environment should also allow for extra tweaking (including tweaks to influence live play) then this is absolutely something which you should seriously consider.

But if all you’re aiming at is grabbing extra sounds and sound packs then I personally wouldn’t bother. In that case it might be better on you to focus on stuff like the Komplete 7 Elements bundle and pick up some extra additional Absynth sounds along the way when required.

Still..  There is no denying that this is quality software which produces even so quality sounds.

Definitely worth an 8 out of 10!

Pro:  Easy access to presets, wave editor, envelope section, wide range of oscillator settings.

Con: High price, installation inconsistencies, minor glitches while using the program.

 

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5 comments

  1. I love the komplete bundle. I’m still so happy that I bought this instead of ableton suite.

    You’ll be happy with the sounds possible with these vst’s

  2. Now THIS is a fucking review.

    Too long for me to read it all, but yeah; installation can be an ass but the sound and interface rule.

    And I agree with you bro! the SOFTWare may be top, the cust support is not. that should count too.

    LOVE IT.. software but teh rev is DEAD ON

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