Simon Power has provided sound design, music scores & compositions for a number of BBC releases including I, Robot, The Mighty Boosh, Blakes 7 and Dr. Who.
We asked him to roadtests the new Omnisphere 1.0.3 update for Sonic State and here's his report.
Like all Spectrasonics VIs, the Omnisphere gives you a lot of bang for your buck. With its 42.1 gig sound library packed with patches, soundsources and multis it may already be one of your most treasured VST go-tos.
And unless you've been living under a rock lately, you'll have heard about the generous free update made public at WNAMM09 back in January. You may also have seen our hot video featuring Spectrasonics God-of-all-creation, Eric P. (if you haven't you can watch it here).
So, now that all the hype has died down, how do these new features shape up in practical use? Let's take a look.
The Omnisphere Patch Library 1.0.3. features no less than 2000 new patches, effectively doubling your existing library. These have never before been available in the Omnisphere's core library, so they are entirely new to Omnisphere.There are also an additional 1000 Atmosphere patches included from previous update, which sound much better on this platform because of the superior effects and processing.
Add to this the streamlined efficiency of the 1.0.3f software download and you'll begin to see why this update is so essential.
I'll begin by examining the alterations to the patch organization and tagging system.
Updated Omnisphere Software Features
The Patch Library category Modern Hybrid has been removed and split into two new categories called Hybrid Organic and Synth Poly.
Human Voices now has it's own Category and is no longer part of Traditional.
Oneshot Hits has been split into two new categories called Impacts and Hits (Tonal and Cinematic Hits/Transitions) and Electro Perc (Electronic percussion) making some welcome definitions.
Synth Classic and Synth Modern however, have been consolidated into a single Category, Synth Poly.
Synth Pads is renamed Pads + Strings into which go Acoustic Strings and Hybrid Strings.
A Dance genre category has been added to the library.
On top of these changes "Type" attributes have been added for all categories and the Omnisphere Reference Guide has been expanded.
That's it for the software update. Just a note of caution before installing any of this. if you have a customized default multi, you're advised to back it up as it will be overwritten.
Omnisphere Patch Library 1.0.3
The download takes no time at all to install but once you open Omnisphere the enormity of what happened in those few seconds becomes apparent. Sure, all your original patches are in place, but take a look at all these extra ones...
Gee, this is like having a Jupiter 8 and Roland sending you a free MKS-80 through the mail! And what's more, these aren't just gratuitous sound-alike patches. Each one has legitimate qualities that enhance the existing library with more power and depth. Yep, this update's hotter than Georgia Asphalt, that's fer sure.
RAVE olution: one of the 2000 updated patches
How practical in use are the new patches?
One of the joys of Omnisphere is that it gives you instant access to patches that have been created by sound designers and musicians. Therefore they have already been bench tested for usability by the experience of the developers. Rarely do you hear a sound that would lack practical application and quite often, that application would only be limited by your own imagination.
With that in mind, let's focus first on the psychoacoustic sounds. These are the flagship patches created in realtime acoustic situations and are most likely to challenge any doubts about practicality of use.
As a fine example of the psychoacoustic ethos, The Drying Rack patches capture the sound of a bowed clothes rack tied to a couple of acoustic guitars. This throws up one or two interesting timbres not unlike Richard Water's Waterphone commonly used in 80's horror movie soundtracks.
Likewise with the Elasto FX menus 1 & 2. All created by clever manipulation of elastic bands. What we end up with is a raft of highly useable percussive hits and noises.
Now, did you think that Spectrasonics would just record the sound of a Kalimba in Studio A and leave it at that? No way. They took it to a cathedral! And let me tell ya. It sounds a whole helluva lot better for it too, on the new Squeekalimba patch.
The Oil Can Guitar is another highly practical set of 22 patches from Eric Persing himself. Beautifully captured from this homemade South African instrument.
Fresh from burning a piano, Diego Stocco's Cellosaurus subjects a cello to a sadistic workout. When played in a low register this results in a grating, edgy effect not unlike a howling dinosaur or the opening of a castle portcullis.
Perhaps my least favourite of the updates is the Bowed Bycycle. Created by bowing a spinning bike wheel. Although giving off an unusual saxophone meets whale's blowhole kind of tone. It's a good example of practical applications not being entirely obvious. But in general these are all exceptionally well executed and meticulously planned patches with a myriad of applications as deep and as long and as wide your own imagination.
As you may be aware, Omnisphere is also a mighty powerful synth in it's own right. But the huge range of synth patches would be enough to seduce even the most die hard knob twiddler over to the dark side of rompling.
All the heavyweights are represented in their synth patches: The JP-8, Prophet 5, OB-8, Moog 55 Series, JD-800, CS-80, D-50, the mighty EDP WASP, Prophet VS, Kawai K-5000, Waldorf Q and Access Virus. Add to this softies like the Reaktor and the Rhizomatic (the original Absynth) and you can see why this is a must-have arsenal for any ardent synthhead.
And the 1.0.3 update gives you plenty more bass patches to flesh out your mix with.
The Poly Synth patches feature a number of FM style updates such as the FM Bottle Crush, FM Talkbox and FM Direct Seq. There's also plenty of classic analogue sounds and some stacked rave patches for big, big lead lines.
Many of the new patches combine sound sources to create even bigger sounds. Like for instance Giant Analog Boy that layers a JP-8 with an OB-8 to create constantly evolving mod.
There's a whole load of new Jupiter and Juno patches as well as additions to the Prophet, OB-8 and Virus patches.
Two outstanding newbies have to be French RAVE olution and Get This Party Started with their velocity controlled filters and panning delays instantly evoking a slew of awesome applications.
All in all, as with a lot of these updated banks, the "dance" aspect has been enhanced to great effect.
Here's a category that gives you exactly what it says on the tin. A huge variety of sonically overloaded patches emulating electric guitars, synths, acoustic instruments, percussion and even human voice.
And there's a load of new ones, too. Paying particular interest to Totally Destructive Bass. A footnote warns you to lower the volume through fear of ripping the ass out of your speaker cones. Nice!
ARP & Rhythm
A highly musical category, ARPs and Rhythms can be used in unison with the Omnisphere's extensive arpeggiator functions to give an infinite variety of flowing ARP sequences.
A number of the updated patches relate to sounds from other categories that have been given the ARP treatment or been treated to a number of rhythmic patterns.
Pads and Strings
There have been 37 additions to the pad and string category including variations of existing patches such as the Adagio Transparent Strings Bright. A further useful enhancement of this deep, rich and heavenly string ensemble wash.
In this category we see some major updates with the inclusion of patches from Spectrasonic's acclaimed Symphony Of Voices library. These magnificent recordings capture every detail of extensive vocal sessions in London Cathedral. Male, female and boys choirs are all represented in these new patches.
The jazz combo stacks have enormously practical applications with velocity sensitive scat vocal overdubs.
There's choral effects, a choral choir, Gregorian chants, a gospel choir, a Japanese children's choir and lots of additions to the pop vocal patches.
The inclusion of 50 Tuvan throat singer patches is probably inevitable. But, hey, when I get the call to sync that Mongolian documentary, I'll sure know where to come!
These updates add great depth to this highly usable bank of human voices.
The 1.0.3 updates to the keyboard bank include a number of treated piano sounds, a hugely convincing Childhood Toy Celeste, the Optigan-esque Home Organ, the wonderfully named Plastic Boy At The Beach In The 60's, a series of 'smoked' Hammond effects, Clavs, Harpsichords and a number of Rhodes variations.
This is the category where the Omnisphere's multi layering of bank's gets used to full effect. The sounds simply drip with shade and colour instantly evoking moods and emotions that could be used in any number of sound design projects.
The new patches just add to this already burgeoning pallet with sounds like Atlantis, Circular Breathing, Dark Crows Milk, Evil Circuitry, Ghosts In The Secret City, Mission To Mars, Post Nuke Radiation and Waves Of The Tigress.
Sure, a number of these are from the Atmosphere library, but sounding infinitely better and more realized within the Omnisphere environment.
This category favours simulations of real instruments with an impressive array of acoustic and electric guitars, wind instruments and percussion. It now boasts an impressive Smoked Lap Steel, an Electric Sitar, Baritone Guitar, Flamenco Guitar, Jazz Guitar, Dulcimer, Glockenspiel, Mandolin, Music Box and various horns and flutes.
As with the existing patches these new ones are meticulously crafted and every detail is captured with pin spot accuracy.
Rather than loading up an entire category with the 'usual suspects', the Omnisphere takes you to the outer sonic boundaries of percussion. Infact many of the new editions here seem to be unusual off cuts from other patches. For instance the Fandrum percussion, the Rim Cellosaurus and the Hawk Hat. This makes for all the more interesting kits when combined with more conventional sounds like Dry 909 Claps, Open Hats and Kick Harder.
All in all a bold and much needed departure from tired worn out percussion sounds.
Impacts and Hits
I don't think there's much that can match Spectrasonics good ol' one shots and some of these updated patches take it to yet another level.
There's spine tingling suspense and explosive horror galore in patches like Air Blast, Bells Of The Apocalypse, Crash Planet, Destructo Hit, Entering The Dark City, Gates Of Oblivion, Instant Hitchcock (er, instant Herrmann surely!), Loud and Rude Impact, Torched Hit and Wacking The Exposed Generator.
Some are compositions in their own right with long multi layered decays that are just begging to be used in an infinite number of sound design projects.
But beware of over usage. Pretty soon we'll be hearing them in every movie from The Watchmen to Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (probably). So get yours now and get in there first!
SFX and Noises
Yep, Omnisphere's SFX are along way from the Doppler Car Horn or Underwater Helicopter patches in days of yore. This category offers an impressive list of Sound FX with a whole host of user friendly applications.
Just check out the war themed Dresden, Submarines and Air Raid. Or the impressive list of whalesong in School Of Whales. Then there's Vinyl FX galore in patches like Vinyl Rain, Vinyl Popcorn and Spirits In The Phonograph. There's also plenty of winds and breaths and more Burning Piano FX for you to use should the need arise.
African Market With Kids on the other hand supplies an opportunity to mute the 'kids' using the mod wheel...If only it were as easy in real life!
This luscious bank (sorry, 'category') already features a number of rare, highly sought after 'boards. The ARP Solina, The Stylophone, The Casio VL-Tone, Farfisa, Hammond tonewheel, Mellotron, RS-09, SH-2000, Vox Continental, VP-330, Omnichord, Stylophone and Optigan all feature on the list of patches. (No instrumental accompliments from the Optigan, unfortunately)
There's lots of Italian goodness, too with the inclusion of the Elka Cellos, strings and violins and the Logan String Melody II. And waddaya know? There's 6 patches from the uber rare Vako Orchestron. The pro version of the Optigan. Roll it on!
The update includes a lot of sounds that are unashamedly lo-fi making a welcome break from the enormous multi layered patches of other categories. Don't be mislead, though. These quaint retro nuggets are as lovingly produced as any other patches and could be just what you're looking for if your project needs something that's as cheesy as gorgonzola.
As if Omnisphere wasn't cool enough, a free update that is this comprehensive can only cement it's position as one of the World's best virtual softies. Each category has been enhanced with rich, colourful patches that add to the choice and variety now available from Spectrasonics flagship instrument. And the software update irons out any question marks about navigation and stability.
In fact when things are so good it's hard to find anything negative to report.
OK, a number of these new patches are derived from other Spectrasonics libraries. But if Omnisphere is your introduction to the world of Spectrasonics, then it offers you a safe platform from which to explore their extensive back catalog of sounds. In any case, with the Omnisphere's super processing capabilities these sounds have never sounded so good.
In fact Spectrasonics are pretty much ahead of the game on most counts, leaving me with little to say except, while I wipe the saliva from my chin, download this update and start enjoying the ultimate in Virtual Instrument technology for yourself.
Omnisphere is available now $499/Â£279/â‚¬379