Product Review | VI.ONE

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Article Author
 
Keyboard Magazine Stephen Fortner
 
Keyboard ROMplers and workstations do a great job at giving us immediate access to any sound we may have in our head. On the other hand, we often associate software with imitating one type of sound really well: grand pianos, analog synths, or string sections, for example. "All-in-one" virtual instruments attempt to let us have our cake and eat it too, and their popularity suggests that they succeed. Vir2, the new, instrument-focused division of Big Fish Audio, is the latest developer to serve up a slice with VI.One, a library that includes everything from pianos to drum loops to didgeridoos. Let's see how much cake is underneath the icing.


IN USE

Straight to the "In Use" section? You bet. To use VI.One is to play its sounds, so here are the impressions I developed over the course of living with it for a couple of months.
Among the acoustic pianos are presets called "Black Grand," "White Grand," and "The Big Grand." If these sound like the premium piano libraries of the same name from European developer SampleTekk, it's because they are - Big Fish happens to be SampleTekk's U.S. distributor. These are scaled-down versions. For example, the original Black Grand, a Steinway D, was over 18GB in size, and VI.One's total sample footprint is around 20GB. Even so, these pianos are full, rich, and clear, and while I did find myself turning up the low EQ on all of them, they had far more dynamics than any hardware workstation piano, and I'd recommend them for any pop, rock, or R&B production, if not for a solo classical recital. For experimental and modified pianos, there are several cameos from fascinating John Cage Prepared Piano library.

The basic Rhodes and Wurly EPs are a great deal better than what I'm accustomed to from software that offers a "kitchen sink" sound set - good enough, in fact, that if I didn't know they were part of VI.One, I might think they were dedicated EP plug-ins from last month's Rhodes, Wurly, Clav roundup. They're funky and barky, and variations with phaser, chorus, compressors, and overdrive are plentiful. The Clavinet sound, on the other hand, is pretty thin, even with effects.

Some of the B-3 organs are excellent. "Club Sandwich," a nearly full-drawbar blues organ sampled with the organ's vibrato/chorus knob at position C3, is a nicely greasy standout with spitty key click. "Ole Ballader" pulls out the first four drawbars - turn up the reverb send, and it's perfect whether you’re covering "Whiter Shade of Pale" or just ripping off its organ part like Crowded House did. There are two flags that these organs are samples, not modeled clonewheels: On presets that have harmonic percussion, all the keys trigger it all the time, and when you change rotary speeds, the program is clearly crossfading between samples recorded at slow and fast Leslie speeds. The fade is smooth and musical, though.

My favorite sounds in VI.One were in the "Synth-Vintage" category, which takes a lawyers-be-damned attitude by actually naming all the keyboards that were sampled. Almost everything you might find in a synth museum is on hand, including the Minimoog and Memorymoog, Roland Jupiter, Juno, TB-303, and JX series synths, Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-8, ARP Odyssey and 2600, Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Prophet VS, and Yamaha CS-80. There are a few sounds you might not expect, eerie Clavioline and Hammond Solovox vibrato leads that'd be right at home in a McCarthyism-era alien invasion movie, and even a handful of proudly digital synths such as the Synergy and Korg DW8000. While there are only a few presets each for most synths, or even just single patches for rare 'boards such as the Synergy and Solovox, Vir2 went right for the most archetypical sounds that a casual synth enthusiast would associate with each brand: Moogs focus on fat basses, Oberheims are brash and brassy, the Jupiter-8 is lush and wet, and the ARPs have that well-known squirty character. I'm generally unimpressed by sampled vintage synth emulations, but VI.One is an exception - these sounds are really fun to play. Since Kontakt 2 Player includes synth filters among the effects you can insert on its output channels, you have more sonic control on hand for the synth sounds (for all of VI.One's sounds, in fact) than a first glance indicates.

Drums loops benefit from Big Fish's well-earned rep as one of the planet's most prolific purveyors of loopware, and there are far too many styles and variations to describe in detail. Though every one I could find was in 4/4, they all tracked tempo changes, even extreme ones, with little or no artifacts. Hitting middle C plays the whole loop; individual time-slices of that loop are mapped to keys starting one octave higher. There are also plenty of straight-up drum kits, including some very meaty, dynamics-rich "Acoustic Premium" kits, and spot-on emulations of the Roland TR-808, E-mu Drumulator, and Sequential Circuits DrumTrax in the "Electronic" bank.

Some of the acoustic guitars make use of content from Vir2's outstanding Acoustic Legends HD (reviewed Feb. '07). The nylon, steel-string, and 12-string variations all have random (but not overdone) fret noise to add to the realism, and there's even a mandolin patch that maps a Godfather-esque tremolo to the mod wheel. Electric guitars are more of a mixed bag, but I found the variations on "Brit Clean" to be serviceable for rhythm parts.

Orchestral strings, woodwinds, and brasses include keyswitched presets with a handful of articulations each. While these aren't as numerous as what high-end orchestral libraries offer, I could see them being useful for the occasional bed, swell, or stab in a film cue, and two words describe the string articulation called "FX:" shower scene. In general, I was less turned on by the orchestral content than by the other sounds - for example, even though VI.One's strings take up a lot more memory, I still preferred Kurzweil's KME-61, a ROMpler with comparatively tiny sample sizes, for playable, fast-attacking strings a la the Russian dance from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The "Ethnic and World" bank is best thought of as gravy. Among its handful of instruments are some flavor-enhancing Middle Eastern percussion and Celtic flutes, but no Chinese or Japanese anything, and the Indian bank is oddly devoid of a sitar.

If you're used to hardware keyboards, you're used to being able to play acoustic instrument sounds higher and lower than their real-world ranges. Stray outside that range on a guitar or orchestral sound in VI.One, and you get silence. While you can shrink key ranges in each instrument’s options box, you can't increase them, as only the "right" notes were sampled to begin with. This is typical of sample libraries, and technically more authentic, but does make VI.One feel more like a sample library and less like a virtual keyboard workstation.


CONCLUSIONS

While no one product can be the last sound source you'll ever need, VI.One carves out a smart, rational niche in the crowded field of all-in-one virtual instruments. On the one hand, there are "soft ROMplers" such as Ultimate Soundbank Plugsound Pro (reviewed May '07), IK Multimedia SampleTank, and Steinberg Hypersonic. While their raw sample sets are smaller - on paper and to the ears - all have more keyboard-like synth engines downstream of those samples. On the other, libraries such as Sonivox Muse and East-West Colossus (reviewed Mar. '07 and Jun. '05) have similar approaches in that they're large sample libraries with embedded players, but both cost about $200 more. This makes VI.One very attractive to musicians who want three things: the sound quality you really only get from custom sample libraries, the most frequently-used content from a genre-spanning slew of libraries gathered under one roof, and a modest price. If that describes you, get an earful of VI.One. It could well be the solution you've been waiting for.
 

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