Ask any musician that grew up in the '60s what some of their favorite sounds were from the era, and the words Moog, Oberheim, and Arp are bound to come up. Despite all the wiz-bang technology of today, the fact is we still can't digitally replicate those huge-sounding analog keyboards of yesteryear. The geniuses at BitHeadz have satisfied this insatiable aural jones with Retro AS-1, a software virtual synthesizer that emulates sounds from the analog era. (The only thing you won't miss is the hernia from carrying one of those monsters around!) Not only is Retro AS-1 ground-breaking in terms of sound and price, it's also revolutionary in that these sounds are all coming from your computer. No more patch cords, drawings of patches, out of tune oscillators, etc. All you need is a fairly robust Mac or PC and a healthy amount of RAM, and you're ready to be the next Herbie Hancock!
When you purchase a digital keyboard these days, you're essentially buying a micro-computer that controls sounds, effects, sound envelopes, etc., housed in a keyboard body controlling the pitch. Because of MIDI, oftentimes musicians will only have one or two keyboard "controllers," and the rest of their sounds will be in the form of rack modules that contain everything but the keys themselves. Retro AS-1 takes your already existing computer and uses the processing power, RAM and interface to turn it into a digital emulation of the classic analog synthesizers.
The major building blocks of analog synthesis are oscillators (sound source), filters (timbre) and modulation (changing a waveform over time). Retro AS-1 contains three oscillators per voice, an eight-octave range per oscillator, nine waveform types (Saw, Pulse, Triangle, Sine, Sine squared, Glottal and white, pink and red Noise) and the ability to have frequency modulate any oscillator. The filter section has two assignable filters per voice, 13 filter types (including four-pole resonant lowpass, highpass, bandpass and others), multiple inputs allowing parallel and/or serial filtering and the ability to modulate any filter by any oscillator. Modulation parameters include dozens of modulation routings, dozens of low frequency oscillators, six different LFO shapes and even the capability of synchronizing LFOs to MIDI clock. Up to four MIDI controller modulation sources are available simultaneously.
Installation of the program was fairly painless. I say "fairly" because to use Retro AS-1 with your sequencer application you have to configure three programs. For my setup I had to install Retro AS-1 (no worries) and then go into OMS and create a new MIDI studio setupOMS recognized the program but wouldn't play it in the sequencerand finally have Pro Tools 5.0 reconfigured to allow recording and playback. Once everything was configured properly the program worked fine. I hesitate to mention the installation headaches in this review because Retro AS-1 installed fine; it was really OMS that seemed to be the problem. In fact, the 200-plus page manual ( a .pdf file on the CD-ROM) does a good job of troubleshooting every kind of possible MIDI scenario.
There are three main applications in the Retro directory: Keyboard, Editor and Mixer. Also included are a programs file and a MIDI processor setups file. I did find it a bit confusing that the all of these applications are separate files in one suite rather than one large program. It would be easier to multitask if everything were in one window with the various menus at your disposal rather than opening and closing programs, particularly when you're using the synthesizer with another sequencing program. This is one of the few drawbacks to Retro.
Under any of the three main applications you find Retro's control panel. Here you can customize the basic configuration of the synthesizer's number of voices, maximum CPU usage, sample rate and buffer length. It's a good idea to experiment with different settings in the control panel to find what works best with your system. A slower processor will be limited in how many notes it can play at once. Buffer length will also effect how much data is bussed to Sound Manager. Lower values increase sound quality but decrease polyphony. Other factors include applications you are running and the bus speed of your motherboard. Using a G4 400 MHz Mac with 192 MB of RAM, I experienced no problems. Considering I saw an Arp 2600 the other day being sold on an auction site for more than $2,000, the extra expense in RAM to use this program while other applications are running is well worth it.
in Retro AS-1
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