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Music Software

As a software engineer (and in the past also network administrator) my background is in computers (PCs), and music equipment was new to me when I started out in 2003, so a PC-based approach was only natural. This meant that I had to get some software running on my computer in order to use it as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). During the first many years I build up a small "collection" of hardware synthesizers/grove-machines, but these days I have sold all of them, and moved completely to software. Over the years my focus/interest and preferred software have changed, and it will probably keep changing (nothing is permanent). I have- and am still using both Steinberg Cubase, Ableton Live and Propellerhead Reason, not to forget WaveLab (wave-editor and mastering-tool).


Ableton Live Suite (Digital Audio Workstation)

For quite some time Propellerhead Reason was my "Preferred Weapon of Choice", but many times I have looked at Ableton Live and especially when I came at their site at a time they had a 33% discount I was close to buying it. But it wasn't until the release of their Push 2 hardware controller I actually did decide to get a bundle of Push 2 along with Ableton Live Suite.

Ableton Live has its own take on how a DAW should function, and I guess that is what make people either LOVE or HATE it (there is nothing in between). As its name denote, Live is geared towards live usage, where you can layout your performance as a bunch of "Clips" that can be triggered by various hardware controllers (so I guess that is one reason why many DJ's prefer Live, over more traditional DAWs like Cubase, Protools and so on). I am not 100% in love with Lives arrangement-view, however I do use it from time to time. I like to start my projects in Lives Session-view, where I quickly get my ideas recorded as a bunch of "Clips", and when I get a more clear view about how I want to combine these Clips as a song I move into Arrangement-view (or bounc the clips to audio-files i can bring into Cubase or Reason).

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Steinberg Cubase Pro (Digital Audio Workstation)

My first choice of DAW was Cubase SL 1 (back when I started in 2003), and I stayed with Cubase through the versions: Cubase SL 1, Cubase SXXL 2, Cubase 3, 4, 5, 6 and 6.5, but gradually I used it less and less, and more or less made a 100% shift to Propellerhead Reason, which for years was my preferred weapon of choice. In November 2015, however I went for Ableton Live and Push 2. Going for Live (compared to Reason) meant all my VST's got a second life, and I ended up buying a bunch of upgrade/new/additional VSTs. While I learned to love the session view in Live, I were never 100% in love with its Arrangement view (not to say its bad/useless in any way - and i have used it a lot, and still uses it from time to time). Anyway when Steinberg in June 2016 offered a 40% discount on all Cubase updates, I finally decided to update my Cubase 6.5 to Cubase Pro 8.5, and I must say I like all the new things they have added since 6.5. So I see my future workflow being recording in Live and Reason, and then doing my mixing in Cubase and probably do my mastering in Steinberg WaveLab - using all my nice Waves plug-ins (but nothing is fixed, and all combinations of these 3 different DAWs are available).

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Propellerhead Reason (Digital Audio Workstaion)

In March 2003 I started out armed with a hardware mixer, a Yamaha MOTIF 6 Synthesizer and Steinberg Cubase SL 1. It wasn't until December the same year I got my first version of Reason (2.5), and over the years I have updated it as new versions comes along, and for each version I loved it more and more.

Reason is very intuitive to work with since it is based around a big virtual Rack where you simply insert your virtual instruments, and then you flip the Rack around (to reveal its back), and then you start cabling all the devices together as you would do using hardware devices. In many ways the Rack in Reason can be used as one big modular synth, so having Reason (along with Native-Instruments Reaktor Blocks), I've been able to fight the urge to get a big (expensive) Euro Rack modular synth. Since version 6 of Reason it has adopted all the features of its (now discontinued) sibling software Record, which allows it to record and work directly with audio. The version 7 upgrade allowed Reason to send MIDI signals to external hardware devices, and therefore it can now be considered a full blown DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), on par with other DAWs.

June 2012 Reason 6.5 was released, and it brought RE (Rack Extensions) to the table. RE is Propellerheads answer to plug-ins (since Reason don't support VST, AU nor AAX-instruments/effects). Actually RE was already introduced with Reason 6 since the devices ECHO, Pulveriser and Alligator were made using the technology behind RE, however this was a well kept secret by Propellerhead. Thanks to RE 3rd party developers can now produce additional plug-ins for Reason that can be purchased separately from the Reason shop. When the shop first opened 20 different RE-modules were available, but this number has since grown a lot.


 

Steinberg WaveLab (audio editor / CD-authoring)

Back in 2003 when I got interested in making music I started out using Cubase SL 1, and I kept updating it till I reached Cubase version 6.5. At this time I had more or less abandoned Cubase as I at that time more liked working with Propellerhead Reason. Anyway in 2007 Steinberg offered Wavelab 6 to all registered Cubase owners for a reduced price, so I went it. Asking me, WaveLab is the best Audio-Editor on the market, and I've kept updating it over the years I've been using it.In 2016 I again re-introduced Cubase (8.5) into my workflow, but I will keep using WaveLab for serious audio-editing.

One of the things I like about WaveLab is its scripting feature, so you can easily have the program carry out some the mundane tasks, so you only have to concentrate on "the real work" yourself (it is a HUGE time-saver when processing many files - e.g. if you have sampled a hardware synthesizer in order to loop the samples within virtual samplers). WaveLab also accepts VST plugins, and owning the Waves Gold bundle along with a few extra effects, I can also use all these plugins directly within Wavelab.

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Waves (effect) plug-ins

Having worked for years with Propellerhead Record/Reason I had gone used to working with their virtual implementation of the SSL (Solid State Logic) 9000 mixer, so once I moved to Ableton Live I kept missing my SSL channel-strips and the master-compressor. So when Waves had their Black-Friday sale in 2015 I had to get their Gold-bundle along with their SSL 4000 Collection. This collection includes a G-model Channel strip modeled on the SSL 4000 (along with a E-model) and it also includes the master channel-Compressor. Since then I have purchased many more Waves plug-ins (love them). E.g. in my office/studio I cannot produce 100% noise-free microphone recordings, as there will always be the (low) noise of PSU-fans in the background, so I went for their X/Z-Noise (removal) plug-ins, together with (to mention a few): CLA Classic Compressors (Teletronix/Urei/Universal Audio LA-2A, Urei/Universal Audio LA-3A and Urei/Universal Audio 1176), JPP Analog Legends (PuigChild/PuigTec EQs), Kramer Master Tape, NLS (Non-Liear Summer), L2/L3 Maximizer and many more  ... too many ;-)

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Arturia V-Collection (virtual instruments)

The French company Arturia has specialized making virtual/software-editions of old analog synthesizers (using what they call "True Analog Emulation"). These products comes as VST-, RTAS-, AU-Instruments, hence cannot be used within Reason, but requires another sequencer like Ableton Live, Cubase, ProTool, Logic or similar (they also comes as "stand-alone" programs, that can be run on their own - without a Sequencer). Each of Arturias virtual synthesizers can be purchased separately, however if you plan to get 2 or more you should instead look at their V-Collection bundle. This bundle contains virtual editions of some of the most loved, legendary  synthesizers of all times. I started using the V-Collection at version 2, and have since upgraded to version 3 and 4. However so far I have not upgraded to version 5, as the (for me) only interesting new synth is the Synclavier. Version 4 also introduce a new Piano, Electric-Piano and Organ, but I don't feel I need any of these (if I did I'd rather go for Spectrasonics Keyscape product). These are the virtual devices included in version 4 of the V-Collection:

  • Moog Modular
  • Minimoog
  • ARP2600
  • Prophet (and Prophet VS)
  • Jupiter 8
  • Yamaha CS-80
  • Oberheim SEM
  • Oberheim Matrix 12
  • Wurlitzer
  • Vox Continental
  • Solina
  • Spark 2 (drum machine)

The V-Collection also contains Analog Labortory which can be seen as a front-end/librarian for all of the synthesizers in the package, so you can load up a single "interface" that lets to browse through a huge collection of sound presets.

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KORG Lecacy Collection (virtual instruments)

Thanks to the Arturia V-Collection (mentioned above) I have access to some (GREAT SOUNDING) virtual implementation of some of the most sought-after analogue hardware synthesizers. I would not have the money to buy all these analogue hardware synthesizers 2nd hand (nor would I have room for them all in my studio/office). But thanks to companies like Arturia I don't need to bust the bank in order to get the sounds these analog beasts make. However Arturia is no the only contender in the field. Thanks to the Korg Legacy Collection (by Korg) you can get virtuel editions of some of their old hardware synthesizers. Like the V-Collection the synths that make up the Legacy Collection are also very great sounding. The Legacy Collection contains the following synths:

  • MS-20
  • Polysix
  • Monopoly
  • M1
  • Wavestation

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Native-Instruments Komplete

I started out with a few select of NI's (Native-Instrument) products (FM7 and KONTAKT 1.x), but as I got more (and wanted even more of their products), I ended up purchasing their KOMPLETE3 bundle late 2005. This bundle contained 13 of their products (REAKTOR5, ABSYNTH3, GUITAR RIG2, KONTAKT2, BATTERY2, ELECTRIC PIANO, INTAKT, KOMPAKT, B4II, FM7, PRO-53, VOCATOR and SPEKTRAL DELAY).

Since I have upgraded through various version of the KOMPLETE bundle (skipping a few on the way), and currently I am running with KOMPLETE11. In every new KOMPLETE-bundle some of the old products (e.g. KORE, INTAKT, KOMPAKT, FM7, VOCATOR and SPEKTRAL DELAY) becomes obsolete and disappear from the bundle, but on the other hand, new versions of "old products" sees the light of day, along with totally new products. I like the very idea of the KOMPLETE-bundle. Once a year (or every 2-3 years) you simply purchase an update of the latest bundle and then you know you got the latest version of all products and you are set until the next time you want to upgrade.

A few times I have though about upgrading to their flagship product KOMPLETE ULTIMATE, however this bundle is naturally also more expensive (upgrades are €399 in stead of €199) and you HAVE TO upgrade more often. The normal KOMPLETE11 lets you upgrade all the way back to a KOMPLETE2, whereas KOMPLETE 11 ULTIMATE only allows you an upgrade from KOMPLETE 8 ULTIMATE or later (as I recall KOMPLETE10 only let you upgrade from KOMPLETE8 as well). Often I skip a version or 2 (e.g. lastly I upgraded from KOMPLETE 8 to 11) and still the price is only €199. Most often the difference between the ULTIMATE- and the "normal" -edition is a few devices and the additional sound-libraries bundled with the ULTIMATE edition (for the same reason the ULTIMATE edition ships on a hard-drive containing all these libraries). If you are composing big orchestral music for movies the ULTIMATE edition is just what the doctor ordered, and it will offer you endless possibilities, however producing Electronic Dance Music you don't have the same need for highly accurate samples of keys, strings, brass and woodwind. I "would like" to have all these libraries, but to be honest I can't say I "need" them ... however that is not the same as saying I will never go for the ULTIMATE edition, whether I "need" it or not ;-)


Misc additional Plug-ins

Beside the plug-ins mentioned above (from Waves, Arturia and Native-instruments), I am using a bunch of different plug-ins. Since I both use Cubase/Live and Reason, these different plug-ins are spread across two different technologies: "VST" for Cubase and Live, and "Rack Extension" for Reason. Most companies making VST-plugins also makes plug-ins for the formats AU,RTAS and AAX (used by iLogic and ProTools), however RE (Rack Extension) plug-ins are a complete different format and fewer companies are making plug-ins for Reason. Here below I have mentioned a few of the plugins I use (grouped by Company.

Spectrasonics
For a long time I had my eyes on Omnisphere (before that "Atmosphere"), but its hefty price-tag ($499) kept me from buying it. In both Atmosphere and the first version of Omnisphere you could only use the samples that came with the factory library. However this changed with the release of Omnisphere II, which except its huge factory library (+50 GB) also allows you to use your own waveforms as basis for its sounds. So in the end I could not resist any more, and I ended up purchasing Omnisphere II. Omnisphere is perfect for long evolving pads and soundscapes that are perfect when making sound-tracks for movies, and this is also how many perceive Omnisphere. However it can also be used to make all other kinds of synth-sounds (why not use a Omnisphere-patch for your Bass and Lead-sounds?). The +50 GB factory library contains +10.000 presets, but they added a nice browser that quickly lets you search the sound you want, and watching the videos they have made, you quickly learn how to make your own patches, whether you want to use the samples from the factory library, or if you want to use sounds from your own sample library.

Spectrasonics have other products in their portfolio (RME Stylus, Trillian and latest KeyScape). If you own any of these other products, their samples are also available within Omnisphere II. As of now I don't own any of these, nor do I plan to in the relative near feature. Like Omnisphere these are also in the expensive-end of the price-scale, so you really NEED them before you actually go buy them (at least on my budget).

UVI
I had my eyes on the product Alchemy (from Camel audio) for a long time, however I never got to purchase it (since Camel Audio ended up selling Alchemy to Apple, who discontinued it as a stand-alone product, and today it is only available for Mac users as a plug-in in Logic). If I was allowed only to own/use a single softsynth, then UVI Falcon would be my choice. In many ways you can compare it to Omnisphere (even though I many times prefer Omnisphere when making "long evolving pads and soundscapes"). Falcon is a lot more versatile than Omnisphere in the way it features a lot of different synth engines, both based around more traditional oscillators and samples (the Omnishpere II library do however contain a lot of waveform samples from diffent hardware synthesizer). The many differnt "synth engines" in Falcon more or less lets you accomplish what you could do in Alchemy, so I can only be happy I never got Alchemy (considering the way things went), and I in stead "waited for" Falcon.

UVI also produces Sound Libraries or as they call them "soundware". These libraries can be purchased even if you don't own Falcon (in which case you need there free "player" called "Workstation"). However if you do own Falcon you can bring these "instruments" into Falcon, where you are able to do much more to the sounds as you can do in Workstation. Basically most of these soundwares are "sample libraries" (they are not all "virtual instruments" emulating real hardware synthesizers). I went for their "Vintage Vault" bundle containg a lot of sample from a lot of different classic hardware synthesizer (so along with the V-collection from Arturia I now feel fully covered in this segment of the sound-palette).

iZotope
Working with audio you cannot avoid hearing about the company iZotope. iZotope are perhaps best known for the mastering tool Ozone and their sound-restoration tool Rx, however unfortunately I don't own any of these (in stead I have invested into Waves plug-ins). However I have iZotope's spectral synth Iris2 along with the free plug-ins Vinyl and DDLY (DDLY costs $49.00, however was offered for free for a short while, when being released).

Iris2 is "a special kind" of synthesizer that accepts samples as input. It comes with its own +10 GB library, but you can bring in your own audio-files as well. I really like that Iris's library consist of "normal" wav-files, so you are able to use these audio-files in other synths/samplers as well (both the libraries for Omnisphere and UVI comes in their own special format, hence they cannot be used in other products). What makes Iris special is not the fact it can use audio in stead of oscillators (many synths can do this), however Iris has a special take on how these audio-files are used. Beside using traditional Filters (Envelopes, LFOs and effects) you are able to "draw-in" your own filtering. When "drawing" these filters the X-axis represent time, and the Y-axis represents frequency. A patch can consist of 4 different sounds (wav-files). So perhaps you only want to use the low-frequency sounds of Audio-1, the mid-frequency sounds of Audio-2, the high-frequency sounds of Audio-3 only in the beginning of the sound and Audio-4 will come in and out during the time it takes to play the sound, some time adding to the low-frequency sounds and sometimes added to the high-frequency sounds. This lets you merge 4 very different sounds (I would otherwise think you could not combine), and the "sum of these" will have the listener unaware how the patch was made.

When iZotope introduced Neutron they offered their "Music Production Bundle2" for at reduced prices, hence I was able to pick it up for $299 (or $373.75 including taxes), but considdering the normal price was $699 (excl. taxes) it was still a good price. This bundle includes: Neutron Advanced, Ozone 7 Advanced, Nectar 2 production suite, VocalSynth, Trash2 Expanded, RX Plug-in Pack, Insight.

McDSP
My first encounter with McDSP was in Reason where I got their (RE version) of FutzBox and their bundles of Equalizers and Compressors. I loved to use these products in Reason, so when I started using Ableton Live and Cubase again, I was missing out on these. In the summer of 2016 McDSP offered many of their products on a discount, so I ended going for their 6050 ultimate channel strip (contained all of the EQs and Compressors that I loved from Reason, beside many more additional Compressors, EQs and distortion devices) along with a VST edition of FutzBox. When SA-2 Dialog Processor was on sale september 2016, I got that as well.


 

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