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Liam Rivera
Liam Rivera

Fxpansion Synth Squad 2

The three DCAM instruments are each designed to model different types of analogue synth, and although FXpansion say no specific models are represented, certain influences are fairly clear, especially in Strobe and Amber. The synths are engineered to offer greater flexibility than the models that originally inspired them, whilst maintaining a consistency of design and operation across the whole suite. Extensive modulation facilities are the order of the day in all cases. (FXpansion have elected to call their modulation system 'TransMod', and details of how it works can be found in the 'Mod Squad' box.) Let's kick off with a broad overview of each DCAM synth.

Fxpansion Synth Squad 2

Because DCAM provides three individual instruments as well as the Fusor host environment and its unique and powerful modulation facilities, there are no comparable alternatives for the package as a whole. However, as alternatives to the individual synths, the following could be considered...

Modulation plays a significant role throughout the synths that form the DCAM suite. FXpansion have chosen to christen their modulation routing method 'TransMod', and it's employed on all three DCAM synths.

Not enough for you? How about the Load To Mod Slot, a feature shared by each DCAM synth that allows you to morph from one patch to another. Simply load a preset, pick a TransMod source, click the Load To Mod Slot button and load your second preset. Now you can morph between the two presets using any modulation source you like. All this plus Fusor's assignable Macro Knobs and MIDI learn for virtually every parameter makes the term 'flexible' a bit of an understatement.

Strobe2 is a software polysynth which puts diverse new sounds effortlessly within your reach. It builds on the original's realistic analogue modelling and deep but intuitive synthesis with a slew of enhancements and requested features. Highlights include a stunning effects section, revamped arpeggiator, deeper modulation processing, preset-morphing, randomizing and a scalable vector interface for retina and 4K displays, and now full MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) compatibility, allowing natural and tactile 5D modulation.

"The power and approachability of TransMod... makes modulation much easier than it can be in some other soft synths and thus makes the process of sound design both more fun and more creative." - Ask Audio - Nov 2015

Although it comes with over 900 standard and 200 5D presets to get you started, Strobe2's programming simplicity makes creating new sounds and learning about synthesis fast, addictive and exciting. Capable of everything from raw vintage tones to futuristic sound design, Strobe2 is perfect for all kinds of music from classic to modern and beyond.

Strobe2's programming simplicity makes sound-creation fun and rewarding. It features streamlined but versatile modulators, a filter with 22 modes and a single oscillator capable of producing many multi-osc sounds without the interface complexity. In fact, its combination of simplicity and synthesis depth means that it's used for learning and teaching synthesis in many educational institutions.

Strobe: a performance synth designed for fast sound design Amber: a divide-down string ensemble synth emulation Cypher: a complex 3-osc synth with dual filters/waveshapers and audio-rate modulation Fusor: a semi-modular layering/FX/step-sequencing environment for the above synths

Divide-down string synthesizers such as Amber are very different in architecture to conventional monophonic or polyphonic instruments such as Strobe/Cypher and therefore requires its own dedicated interface.

For more complex sounds it is recommended to use Cypher. Alternatively, 2 or 3 instances of Strobe can be sued within Fusor - the FuseMod modulation system allows you to share modulators like LFOs and envelopes between the synth instances.

The term 'paraphonic' was first coined by Roland on its classic RS-505 Paraphonic string synthesizer and has become a commonly used term for string ensemble synths or for other synth architectures which send individually keytracked oscillators through a single filter and VCA (in other words - multiple simultaneous notes within a single monophonic voice).

Classic divide-down string synthesizers of this type used a frequency-divided high-frequency master oscillator (or oscillators) to produce all notes on the keyboard simultaneously within a single synth voice, with a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) and amp envelope within the osc section. Some synths such as the Korg Lambda even had a VCA and envelope for every single keyboard note.

Such synths are not 'true polyphonic' synths. To be fully polyphonic, a synth must have an osc, filter and amp section for each simultaneous note. You'll find a detailed explanation of divide-down string synths in part 20 of the Sound on Sound 'Synth Secrets' series.

Amber is capable of producing a variety of different string synth behaviours (and can be switched to normal monophonic/polyphonic behaviour if you prefer) and can even unison-stack paraphonic voices in order to create new and exciting sounds. Within the paraphonic note generation sections, it features 12 oscillators, 384 amps/envelopes and 192 tone filters. It therefore uses substantially more CPU per voice than Strobe or Cypher.

Some of the hardware analysed during the development process includes the Roland SH101, Oberheim Xpander, Alesis Andromeda, ARP Omni, Korg MS-20, various Moog synths and Analogue Systems modulars, amongst others.

The individual Strobe, Cypher and Amber plugins do not, but Fusor contains an extensive suite of high-quality FX that can be used as inserts on synth instances, aux sends or as inserts on the final layered output of 3 synths.

The individual synths in DCAM Synth Squad are designed to be compelling and full of inspiration without being drenched in shiny effects which may or may not fit the context within which they are used. We wanted the synths and their presets to stand out on their own as vibrant and powerful sound sources with a dedicated environment alongside for synth layering and adding all kinds of effects.

We're confident that you won't be disappointed with the lack of effects in the synths, and that the quality of the 'raw' synth sounds will pleasantly surprise you. You'll also find that the Fusor FX suite is of exceptionally high quality - in a totally different league to the generally 'cheap and nasty' onboard reverb/chorus found on most synths!

Strobe, Cypher and Amber are supplied as instruments and MIDI-controlled audio effects. External audio appears in place of each synth's white noise audio source. You must make sure you engage the synth voice (to open the VCA) by playing a key - otherwise you won't hear anything. You must also ensure that the synth's controls are set so that the white noise source is audible. All other audio sources (oscillators, self-oscillating filters) can be used alongside the white noise source.

It is important that the effect versions should not be considered as 'filter plugins' - they should instead be considered as synths with an audio input alongside other oscillator sources before the filter section. They provide a way to feed external audio through the entire synth architecture without any additional interface work. To force 'effect plugin'-style behaviour, feed a MIDI note to the plugin with its Hold button engaged.

The ways in which MIDI-controlled audio effects are set up vary considerably on different hosts. Please contact your host vendor for instructions if you do not know how to accomplish this function. The DCAM synth FX versions operate in the same way as any other comparable plugins and have been tested in the following hosts:

The external audio appears in place of the white noise source in the oscillator section of each synth. All operations further down the signal path from the oscs can be performed on the external audio - i.e. the filter and amp sections, along with the waveshapers in Cypher.

Alternatively, you can use the other osc sources alongside the input, allowing many creative applications. You could, for example, run a sample-based instrument such as a piano into a DCAM synth FX plugin with the standard osc waveforms active alongside the input, and use the same MIDI input for both tracks - effectively creating a hybrid/layered instrument.

You can use the DCAM synth's unison/voice modulation functions with the external input. With 2 unison voices, the external input (or inputs in Cypher) will be doubled, and a unison modulation source can be used in the TransMod system to create different settings for each of the voices - for example different filter types, drive amounts etc.

Fusor voice counts Fusor tends to use more CPU than the synths on their own, due to the added FX and multiple synths. Consequently, you'll need a faster CPU to run certain combinations of devices within it. The following figures should give you some idea of Fusor's performance (test conditions are the same as for the synth voice figures above):

Strobe and Cypher are the most CPU-efficient of the 4 included instruments. In the real world, these kinds of analogue synths would typically be monophonic or up to 8-voice polyphonic. Similarly, Amber would never be able to play multiple voices in real life (it would be too huge and would be a servicing nightmare). Remember that Amber's paraphonic architecture means it can play all notes on the keyboard simultaneously within 1 voice.

Realistic synthesis algorithms do require substantial amounts of CPU power, and if you consider that the sound quality is comparable to analogue synths, we're confident you'll agree that the CPU usage is an acceptable trade-off.

Fusor is the most CPU-hungry instrument due to the added FX and multiple synth channels and if you have a slower machine, you may not be able to use all of its presets. Because it can be used in a variety of permutations, you'll still be able to use it on slower machines with less complex device configurations.


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