Arturia recently released a new version of its long running V Collection. Normally I would not spend time reviewing it, the product has been around a long time. Even though there has been various iterations and new additions to the keyboards that are part of the software instrument collection.
This year is special. Two things happened, and I am legitimately impressed. The first is they basically revamped their entire line of synthesizers. The second, more importantly Arturia brought back one of the world’s most exclusive and complex digital synthesizers, the Synclavier.
Before I get to the Synclavier, let me start with the fact they basically updated every single synth in their product line. The major improvement that everybody who previously used Arturia’s plugins will notice immediately is the UI. The long frustrating aspect of Arturia instruments is while they sounded pretty good, the UI was frustratingly small at times. While it was pretty easy to navigate the mini (their version of the minimoog), it was difficult to read things such as the CS-80 V, Modular V, etc. This made creating patches a bit more of a pain. Thankfully the era of the tiny-hard to read Arturia’s is over. The size is now adjustable! Much rejoicing!
In addition to changing the size, they also updated the UI itself. The UI is much more crisp, exploring patches is much easier. This makes the entire experience of using these software instruments better.
There were some other tweaks as well along the way, many of the instruments also saw an update to their synthesis engine. While some of this is likely refactoring of the algorithms that underlie these synthesizers, it means the sound has improved, sometimes significantly. This is not to say Arturia’s synths sounded bad to begin with. But for some instruments, namely the Prophet 5/VS, there is a considerable bump up in quality and they are closer to the real thing.
There are also new features, this is most noticeable in the Modular V, which saw some important updates. The modular V now features FM on the oscillators. It may seem like a small thing, but it really does help expand the utility of the instrument. This may be a deviation from the Modular V being true to the original Moog Modular, but this is a major improvement in functionality, and more reflective of modern modular synths. There are other places here and there that saw new functionality, but the list is likely long and more incremental.
The other major aspect I noticed is the Arturia plugin synths are less resource intensive on the CPU compared to previous versions.
So we have a better looking and sounding synths, with some new features, that take less of a CPU hit. Arturia made a major update which ended up in a big improvement.
In addition to all this, Arturia introduces several new organs and pianos. This is not something I am really focused on, but these are useful if you do not have other software that models or samples these instruments. I have personally used their electric piano and organ instruments in the past, so the are in no way disposable. But let us not kid ourselves, the draw to the product is the wide array of software emulations to classic synthesizers. Which gets us to the big one they introduced with this new release of the V Collection, and it is no mere emulation. The Synclavier.
The Synclavier V
Most Arturia synths are emulations of classic analog synthesizers using the best approximation of a hardware synthesizer, most often an analog synth.
The Synclavier was a different beast, the Synclaiver at it’s heart was a musical computer with a synthesis engine. It’s cost, and unattainability came from this fact. The Synclavier’s synth engine, was driven by computer code. What makes the Synclavier V project different than other Arturia efforts is the fact they basically took about restoring and enhancing the core code from the Synclavier’s original synth engine. Basically the Synclavier V, is a Synclavier at its heart. Synclavier Digital was a partner in this effort throughout the entire process. Even though it is a plugin, the original code is there. What is missing is the nice Synclavier controller, but we have a range of midi controllers to choose from to these days to suit our own preference. Unlike the past, we also now have machines that far surpass the computers the Synclavier ran on.
It is important to note, the sampling engine and other add on modules that the Synclavier had are not here. This is the core synthesis engines, which is FM and Additive. This is enhanced for some deeper capabilities and now there is more partials (layers). Some of the other capabilities may be added in future versions, or they may not. But we should not dismiss the fact we are being handed possibly one of the best synth engines ever created.
I have not been thrilled with most additive synth engines that appear in synth plugins. Which is surprising since additive synthesis most computers should do very well. They often seem to be missing something. I cannot say this with the Synclavier, whatever that thing that was missing, is there. The fact that Arturia and Synclavier has basically re-introduced one of the classic additive and fm synthesizer engines should be lauded. Because what is here is a digital synth engine with a real soul.
The synthesis engine itself is a hybrid of additive and FM. This may be where it is special. The waveshaping is done through an additive method using harmonics. This gets interesting when one is diving into the Time Slices, as the wave can be changed through time. The time slices are where the enhancements to the original engine come out. Even though this has a fairly straightforward UI, the synthesis is seriously complex. one can spend years probably diving into every aspect. While I know quite a bit about FM and Additive, for the first time in a long time, I am being introduced to new sonic territory in terms of synthesis. Adding these two methods together seems like a revelation, especially in the way the Synclavier combines them. Most FM engines use fixed sine waves, in this case there is deep wave-shaping via additive synthesis of the carrier and modulator waves. This allows for the creation of complex waves, it is akin to wave multiplying and folding on a modular synth. This is very different FM than one would find in a yamaha fm engine. Everything about the Synclavier feels new, because it is not just an engine many of us have never touched, it is the fact they changes are bringing new depth to that engine. This makes accessing it a bit wonderful, it feels like unfamiliar territory, there is a sense of discovery with every bit of a manipulation. A wonderful part of being a synthesist is learning new things, new approaches, and that is what the Synclavier-V offers.
Like most FM and Additive Synthesizers this synth thrives with complex pads, weird FX, and bell tones. But this synth never feels “cold” in the same way other digital synths can. There is a great deal of character, and may I say warmth. This may be because of the strength of the engine. It may also come from the ability also to dial in the fidelity, from its original 8 bit, all the way to 24 bit. But even when dialing up the fidelity nothing is lost in terms of character.
If you are used to the rather straightforward nature of subtractive synthesis one finds on most keyboard synths, this may not be for you. Complex digital synthesis is not for everybody. Like Yamaha’s DX engine it takes a bit more thought in crafting sound. Subtle variations can often change things in a big way, but there is no resonant filter here to help simplify things quickly. Almost everything is done through manipulating harmonics, Frequency Modulation, and envelopes. This is familiar territory for those used to digital additive and FM synthesis, but a conceptual leap for others in terms of sound design. I should note, I am not one of those people, as much as I love modular synthesizers, I have a love for FM and additive synthesis. Arturia did produce a fairly in-depth manual, but it may take some experimentation to understand every concept within it for those who do wish to dive in. You will not become Suzanne Ciani overnight.
Arturia and Synclavier Digital has given a beautiful gift to synthesists with the Synclavier V. While I love modular synths, the fact I can now play the Synclavier’s classic FM and Additive synth engine is a dream come true.
While this update cost a bit more than Arturia’s previous upgrades, it was worth every penny. There were major improvements here. The addition of the Synclavier V though, is also not to be dismissed. This is easily the most important software synth Arturia has released. It gives people access to a synth previously outside the range of affordability and access. Additionally, if anybody was holding off on the V collection, now is probably the time to jump in. Arturia right now has a comprehensive selection of software instruments, and they are now much more usable as a result of the UI update. Between the product wide updates and the Synclavier-V, I highly recommend the Arturia V Collection.