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New Free Sound Library - Prodyon Virtual Gear Phenome!

Soundfont Player/Sound Library
Platform: PC, Linux 
Format: VST
Price: FREE! (paid add-on soundsets available)

"Soundfonts aren't dead!"
- Dennis Lenz, Prodyon Virtual Gear

Coming at you today is one example of a growing class of music software that has the potential to become ubiquitous in the computers of budget-minded music makers the world over - the Prodyon Phenome! 


As you may already know I am a sucker for free sound libraries. Maybe it's because I'm (unfortunately!) old enough to remember just how difficult and/or expensive it was to find a single product that covered all the bases needed for songwriting. For many years, synth owners had to own several synthesizers/keyboards to get a broad palette of sounds they needed for songwriting. It was not uncommon to have a Fender Rhodes for meat and potatoes electric piano, an ARP Solina, Crumar Performer or something similar for strings, and a variety of other synths, commonly Oberheim OB's, ARP Odysseys, Moog Minimoogs, Sequential Circuits Prophets and Roland Juno's; each contributing their unique sonic signatures to broaden the overall variety of available sounds.

Later, as the digital age of the mid-to-late 80's dominated the market, manufacturers started selling products that included a vast variety of sounds because of much-increased patch management capabilities, paving the way for a new generation of keyboardists who would own only one synth (and possibly a drum machine) and write entire demos or even commercial albums that way. Often times add-on tapes, cartridges or disks were sold as additional sound libraries to expand the already vastly improved selection of sounds available on a stock keyboard.


Now that we have our feet firmly planted in the home computer-based studio age, obtaining sound libraries largely comes down to the amount of hard drive space you have and how much money you will spend. Fortunately for us, there are software companies like Prodyon Virtual Gear who are making sound libraries available for either free or for a very small investment.

An increasingly popular model has been to release the core software for free and include a base of sounds to get you going. That way the company can monetize by releasing add-on libraries or sound packs to be played in their software for a reasonable charge. This is a fantastic strategy in my opinion, and it's one that is becoming popular not only in music production but in the larger software world as well. Some examples of music software like this are the Native Instruments Kontakt Player and Kore Player, the UVI Workstation, Yellow Tools Independence FREE and the newly re-released IK Multimedia SampleTank. Now we can add Prodyon Phenome to the ever-growing list!


The Prodyon Phenome consists of an extremely full-featured soundfont player that can load any soundfont you already have or that you may find. Phenome has support for 8 separate patches in one instance (8-part multi-timbral). This is a cool way to save on CPU because you only need to load one instance of Phenome to use up to 8 different patches, or better yet, to get wildly creative by blending up to 8 different sounds together to create 1 completely unique patch.

 Another area that Phenome excels is in its depth of control. It actually functions much like a full-featured soft synth more than most soundfont players that we see - at any price. Editing functions include ADSR envelopes to control the amplitude of the sound as well as the character of the filter, which has a 4-stage envelope, cutoff and resonance, and even more rare filter functions like lo-fi, drive and more! There is also a separate 5-stage pitch envelope which adds a Hold function to the common ADSR-style scheme. Other features include an arpeggiator, an effects section comprising of a nice reverb and a fully-featured chorus, and mod wheel assignments for controlling various modulation parameters.

All these features are definitely impressive for a free soundfont player, but features are meaningless if the libraries are not done well. So how does the included free library sound? I want to say "surprisingly good considering that it's free" but the truth is that it sounds surprisingly good - period! The developer definitely knows how to program interesting patches, and the free bank is chock full of sounds full of life, character and movement. This is not a typical "synth classics" library. He has taken the time to give the patches a uniqueness that many users will undoubtedly appreciate.

Also available is a Factory B bank including 171 presets using 106 soundfonts as their basis ($19.99) and a new Ambient Textures soundset featuring 128 presets/soundfonts at a very reasonable $24.99. More diverse soundbanks will be offered in the upcoming months and should maintain the low pricing model of the first two banks.

I was so impressed with the scope and quality of Prodyon Virtual Gear's Phenome that I contacted the developer, Dennis Lenz. Dennis kindly answered a number of my questions:


So what does Prodyon mean?

  "To be honest - it´s only a self creation with no particular meaning. When i was looking for a "company" name, i wanted to have something with "Pro" = professional in it and all the sudden i came up with this   :-)"

Your sounds are very high-quality and interesting to listen to. Have you done sound design in the past? Where did you learn your skill?

  "Thank you!  I´ve done a bit of sound design in the past but primarily only for myself and for the fun of it. I always wanted to know how this and that sound can be achieved, how to create beautiful multisamples and stuff like that. So i started by studying other people´s soundset to "see and learn". I also often looked at different Synthesizer Settings to see how a certain sound can be achieved. That´s basically everything!"

What kinds of music do you primarily enjoy listening to?

  "To just about everything that has something special or "driving" in it! I love tracks that have powerful melodies and that "certain sound". Most of the time i enjoy commercial music. The only thing where i complain is that there´s simply too much good music out there. That makes it hard to choose   :-)"

Do you make music yourself? If so, do you have a way for our readers to hear it?

  "Yes, i have done several tracks in the past. There were also some releases, mostly Dance-type music.
For example there´s a track of mine in YouTube called "Der blaue Planet" which is a cover track of the old "Der Blaue Planet" from Karat. Some may know this. I think ..."

Where are you from?
  "From good old Berlin - Germany!   :-)"

How has the response to Phenome been so far?

  "Overwhelming! I got nearly 10.000 Downloads so far. For me, Phenome is the biggest success for Prodyon ever. And that shows me that there´s still a huge demand for Soundfont players, which is great. As is already said - Soundfont´s aren´t dead!"

Do you make music software full-time? If not, is that your plan?

  "Currently i do it 24 / 7, yes! I´m enjoying it very much - it´s great to see and hear that you make people happy with your own custom creations. Besides Prodyon i also plan to release more and more music in the future. I´m still dreaming of having my own Album ;-) But that takes time!"

Where can people go if they need help using Phenome or just want to talk to other users for creative reasons, such as sharing presets or even whole songs?

  "They can visit my own section at the worldwide KvR-Audio Forum! There´s also a direct link on my website. As an alternative people can always e-mail me at any time. I`m happy to answer all questions!"

Have you considered having a songwriting contest where artists use Phenome as the primary instrument?

  "That´s an excellent idae - i might think about this!"

You have released 3 excellent sound libraries (including the factory library) in a relatively short amount of time. Do you have any others planned or already in production?

  "Yes, of course! Planned are (for now) the new Factory "C" and "D" expansions, which add around 300 more presets to Phenome. This time, there will more electronic stuff, like more synthesizer leads, basses and arpeggios. I also have plans for some acoustic libraries with Guitars, Pianos and the like. So, let´s see!   :-)"

Do you have a clear vision for future pricing for Phenome libraries or are you trying to see how things go first?

  "Since it´s not that easy today to have a somewhat steady income i have to see first, yes. Prices might be higher in the future but also lowered. Time will tell!"

Lastly, do you have any advice or tricks for users on how to get interesting things out of Phenome?

  "I can only suggest playing with the "Note Off"- feature that every layer incorporates! You can do really interesting sounds by for example playing a short sound on Layer 1 and have Layer 2 play a "Note-Off" Pad sound with a long attack. This gives the illusion of the sound on Layer 2 being played reverse!"


To hear Prodyon Virtual Gear's free Phenome for yourself you can preview and download the free bank here:

The Phenome player required to use that bank as well as all other Phenome add-ons can be found here:

If you decide to download and use the free library only, please consider donating a small amount to the developer to show your appreciation and to cover the bandwidth costs of the enormous download size of the soundfonts. And yes, Dennis, soundfonts are definitely not dead!  :-)

VST Discovery: Yellow Tools Independence Free



Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
Price: FREE!

Here is another VST Discovery STUDIO ESSENTIALS SERIES plug-in for you. Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you probably already know that Yellow Tools is the cream of the crop in the world of software instrument developers. Their Candy plug-in is as good as it gets in digitally recreated saxophone, and Independence is probably the most uniquely impressive sampler available today (although certainly not the best selling!) Independence combines the technologies of Virtual Instruments, premium sound libraries and workstation workflow in one single creative software solution.

  • This is a FULL VERSION - not a demo!
  • It is based on the powerful Independence 2 audio engine
  • Features Auto-RAM-Cleaner Multi-Core support for power efficiency
  • Disk Streaming requires less memory than many other software samplers
  • No Yellow Tools Authorization Key required
  • Besides audio file import, all Independence software features are enabled!
  • There are no time or save restrictions
  • Commercial use is allowed
  • Available for Mac OS X (Universal Binary), Windows XP & Vista
Independence Free comes with a 2 GB sound library of premium instruments from the Independence 2.0 Core Library that can be performed in an intuitive and authentic way. Please note that Yellow Tools requires you to register on their website to have access to the sampler and the 2 GB library.


Independence FREE 2.0 is free software


But these are not!

IK Multimedia Sampletank 2 is $329


MOTU MachFive sells for $459!

For The Money: Cockos Reaper

DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Platform: Mac, PC, Linux
Format: Standalone
Price: $60/$225


For The Money is a feature that covers the sweet spot that exists between free software and the expensive software available in big pro audio stores.

This is a post that I have been looking forward to writing. I have tried many, many DAW's over the years, and I use Reaper for all aspects of my music production, except for really advanced MIDI editing. There is so much to say about Reaper that I could fill the entire page with its well-thought out features, but I don't think I will do that. I have made a page with only Reaper's features, though, in case you are interested.

The last 10 years have seen me using Pro Tools, both for my own projects and for the commercial recording studio I owned at the time. I taught Pro Tools classes as well at a college in my hometown. However, I became frustrated with it and was forced to look for other options about 3 years ago. I auditioned anything I could get my hands on, and chose Tracktion. (This was about the time that Mackie bought the program from original developer Julian "Jules" Storer.)

I used Tracktion for about 2 years, and although I loved most things about it, I needed a little more advanced features. So I again auditioned just about everything I could find. This time I began with a list of over 70 programs! I narrowed that list down, then down again until I had only 3 left contending for my money: Cakewalk Sonar, Zynewave Podium, and Cockos Reaper. After weeks of much experimenting and consideration, I committed to Reaper.

Some of my favorite features are:

  • Completely customizable interface.
  • Over 200 effects included! Many are .js, which are unique to Reaper.
  • The most friendly and knowledgeable music forum I've even seen.
  • Ability to have real-time sessions with other remote Reaper users.
    For example, you could have a bass player in Florida, a keyboardist
    in California, and you doing vocals in Chicago, all at the same time!
  • Macro-style time savers. Just program an entire series of actions
    that you repeat often, then assign a key command to automate them.
  • Many of the built-in effects replace expensive commercial plug-ins, such as an Auto-Tune, a convolution reverb, and guitar amps and cabs.
  • Helpful videos and an enormous help manual (over 400 pages!) available
    as a downloadable PDF, book, or web wiki.
  • Distributed processing power using more than one computer for FX.
  • significant update about every 2 weeks! This DAW is the DAW of the future!
  • much, much more.......
Reaper has an pretty unique license. The software sells for $225, which is less money than other DAW's at the same level. However, Justin has decided to offer another license for $60 for personal use or if you gross less than $20,000/year. So if you aren't making much money from your recording, Reaper is much cheaper for you! By the way, Reaper is the brainchild of Justin Frankel, the original developer of Winamp, which you've probably never heard of ;-) After a while Justin sold Winamp to AOL for a LOT of money and is likely in a position to not need to charge what most other software companies do. He has also dediced to not pay for heavy advertising and charge the customer for it. So basically - he won, now we win, and it's all thanks to AOL! (Just kidding...)

There is also a generous demo of Reaper available. It is the same full version that paid customers get, with no restrictions at all. What's more, the demo never expires! Hopefully your mind isn't thinking "Woohoo - free DAW!" because companies like this really should be rewarded with our business. There is a stated 30-day tryout period, but no functionality changes after the 30 days. He is saying that he trusts his customers and doesn't want to punish them with complicated protection schemes just for the sake of the warez community. Bravo, Justin - I for one really appreciate this move! :-)

Reaper, shown with the DarkPlastic3 theme
Reaper.png Reaper picture by timandmonica


Download my beginner's tutorial on how to set-up
audio devices and set VST plug-ins directory here.



Reaper founder Justin Frankel demonstrating his software.

VST Discovery: Acustica Audio Nebula


Platform: PC, Linux
Format: VST
Price: FREE!

Acustica Nebula VST plug-in holds the honor of offering the best free reverb on the planet. They use a process called Volterra Kernal Modeling, based on their Volterra Kernel Series. It emulates different types of vintage gear: equalizers, filters, microphones, preamps, compressors, reverb and time-variant processors like chorus, flangers, and phasers. I don't pretend to understand how it works, although I've read a bit about it. The closest analogy I can give you is that it is somewhat similar to how convolution reverb works. One way they are similar is that it uses more processing power than a typical plug-in, but the pay-off is dramatic.

At the other end of the spectrum of reverbs are the algorithmic kind, which are mathematically-based attempts to recreate the acoustic environment of any given space. The fact that it is done with algorithms and not an actual recording tends to make the result more artificial. For some applications this comes across as a cheesy, fake effect. But for others, a high-quality algorithmic reverb is like spreading icing all over a cake. Sure, it's not the real cake, but slathering it all over the top makes the end result more desirable.

The Holy Grail of all algorithmic reverbs is indisputably the Lexicon 480L and it's more recent brother, the 960L. These are dedicated hardware boxes that do nothing but crunch the numbers necessary to get that unmistakable high-quality sound that you hear on many big budget records, especially on the vocals. Acustica used their Volterra Kernal technology to emulate them both, and they did a fantastic job. If you have a studio full of freeware and you want to fool the masses by the high quality of your recordings, be sure to add the Acustica Nebula Free to your VST toolkit.

* Be prepared: Nebula is kind of a pain to get and to install, but I promise that you will not regret the initial single investment of time. In fact, once you get it going you'll probably be enamored enough to forgive it all it's download and setup difficulties ;-)

* Dynamic Range: 192.5 dB.
* Harmonic Orders: Program-dependent: 0 to 4.
* Internal Bit Rate:
o Audio:
+ 64 bit floating point for optimizations 1, 3, 4.
+ 80 bit floating point for optimizations 2, 5, 6, 7.
o Control Sources:
+ 64 bit floating point.
* In/Out Bit Rate: 32 bit floating point.
* Incredible range of Frequency Rates from 6Khz to 384Khz with many small intervals.

There are two versions of Nebula available for free; Nebula 2 and Nebula 3, and even a dedicated Hispanic version of v3. Both sound fantastic and have their own individual free libraries available. Might as well get 'em both!

Nebula Free is free software


But these are not!

The Lexicon PSP-42 sells for $149


the Lexicon Pantheon Reverb is
only available bundled with hardware.

BEST IN CLASS: CM Mag's Top 10 Freeware Synths

Best Of List
Format: Various
Price: FREE!

A while back Computer Music Magazine released a Special Issue called "The Fast Guide To Synthesis" in which they rated what they deemed the Top 10 Commerical and Top 10 Freeware Synths. I enjoyed the article, as there are very few things like this that ever make it to print, but I couldn't help but find it kinda funny that out of the 10 free synths listed, one was a time-limited demo version (KarmaFX), one had an obtrusive nag screen pop-up every minute (Foorius) and 3 were only available if you purchase their magazine (Dominator, ZebraCM, and Wusikstation CM). Still, I think the ones that came with the magazine are well worth the purchase price. I guess there's a blurry line with the definition of free; even though the synths are released under a free license, you have to pay for the magazine to get them. This is not a complaint as much as a curiosity - the CM synths are wonderful!

So here is what they came up with for The Top 10 Freeware Synths:

All commentary about the software below is mine, not copied from the article.


10.gif picture by timandmonica
SmartElectronix/dmi Foorius

Semi-Modular Analog, AM, FM, and Wavesequencing Synthesizer

foorius.jpg Foorius picture by timandmonica

Type: Semi-Modular Analog, AM, FM, and Wavesequencing
Platform: PC
Format: VST, Linux
License: Freeware w/dontation screen at startup
Audio example: MP3 demo (100% Foorius)

Feature-wise, dmi's Foorius is a excercise in excess; the kitchen sink of soft synths as it were. But Foorius has proven to not simply be excessive for the sake of excess. You would be hard-pressed to find a sound that you couldn't make with this powerhouse of an instrument. The price belies its power, as it sells for whatever you decide it's worth (donationware). You can also use it for free if you don't mind the simple nag screen when it starts. So all that power does come at a price - it's just a very small one!


9.gif picture by timandmonica
SK Vivaldi MX

FM Synthesizer

vivaldi.jpg Vivaldi MX picture by timandmonica

Type: FM
Platform: PC
Format: VST, Linux
License: Freeware

There are far less good FM (Frequency Modulation) synths in the world of freeware compared to the subtractive sort, but Vivaldi MX is one of the few. This is basically a version 2 of Vivaldi, Stefan Kuhn's first attempt at a VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology Instrument), and it comes with a welcome increase of features and updates. Some would argue that Stefan Kuhn's Ganymed is even better than Vivaldi MX as a go-to FM synth, some would say they are just different tools. What's the best way to find out? Try 'em both for yourselves - they're both free!


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Smart Electronix Augur

Vector Synthesis (Prophet VS clone)

augur.gif Augur picture by timandmonica

Type: Vector Synthesis (Prophet VS clone)
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
Format: VST
License: Freeware
Audio example: MP3 demo

The CM Magazine article says that Augur seems to be perpetually stuck in beta. Well, as we have learned from Google, that doesn't always equate to a poor product. The difference is that in this case the developer (Antti, one of the SmartElectronix team) seems to have moved on to other projects. The good news is that the current version is very stable and sounds very, very good! So if there is still work to be done, it may be under the hood somewhere in an insignificant bug or two. Search for additional presets floating around the web - they will vastly increase your patches since the stock version doesn't come with many.

Arturia recently released a Prophet 5 clone, but the big surprise came when customers found out that they also happened to include a near-perfect clone of the Prophet VS as well! Once that news was out people were rushing to get their hands on this new Arturia soft synth. The cool thing is that those of us who can't afford to rush out and buy every VSTi we get excited about have the opportunity to use the Prophet 5 and the Prophet VS for free. Roberson Audio Synthesizers released a very well done Prophet 5 clone here, and Augur is the Prophet VS. So if you don't mind having them as two separate plug-ins, it's all your gain!


7.gif picture by timandmonica
Paul Nasca ZynAddSubFX

Analog Subtractive, Additive Synthesizer

screenshot02.png ZynAddSubFX picture by timandmonica

Type: Analog Subtractive, Additive
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
License: Freeware (Open Source)
Audio example: MP3 demo (100% ZynAddSubFX)

ZynAddSubFX has always been an odd synth to me. For one, it looks like no other, showing its Linux roots in its design. It also has 3 synths built into one. They are not simply being able to choose between different kinds of oscillators; there are actually 3 different synth engines in this puppy! ADsynth is the additive synthesizer, SUBsynth is the subtractive, and PADsynth excels at atmospheric dreamy sounds.

Another feature that is unique to not only this Top 10 list, but also to most other synths is that ZynAddSubFX is released under the GPL 2 license. This allows anyone to freely download the source code and make any changes or additions that they choose, assuming they have the skill to do so. It is also the only synth natively available for the "big 3" operating systems: Mac, PC, and Linux. Impressive!

I emailed one of the main developers on the ZynAddSubFX team who is in charge of rehauling the interface, and he assured me that positive changes are coming with the design as well as new features.

Give ZynAddSubFX a try. If you persist through its uniqueness, you will find a rare diamond in the rough!

Except for it's not a diamond.

And it's not really that rough, just a little ugly!


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Green Oak Crystal

Semi-Modular Subtractive & FM Synthesizer

crystal.jpg Crystal picture by timandmonica

Type: Semi-Modular Subtractive & FM
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX (Intel & PPC)
Format: VST, AU
License: Freeware
Audio example: MP3 demo (100% Crystal)

Crystal has been around a long time, earning itself a large following from the very beginning. Rumor has it that Glenn Orlander, its creator, was scooped up by a commercial music software company after seeing what he single-handedly created with Crystal. Now that's about the biggest compliment you could probably get from someone, not to mention the monetary contribution, eh?

What to say? Crystal does it all - analog modeling, SF2 import for osillator use, FM, semi-modular routing, and basic wavesequencing. But all that would mean nothing if it weren't for the sound. Crystal sounds fantastic! Even when relegated to doing simple 2 oscillator subtractive synthesis, Crystal is great. But you really have no excuse to leave Crystal to do that kind of work when it is capable of so much more. There are actually multiple 9-stage envelopes on board here! This kind of contol is what allows motion reminiscent of movie scores, which is why Crystal is often recommended as a free alternative to Native Instruments Absynth, the nearly ubiquitous king of the Hollywood sound stage. Crystal and Absynth are definitely different beasts, but someone with a little determination could pull the same sounds out of either synth. Maybe somebody needs to tell Hollywood!

Be sure to get the additional waves (for oscillators) and presets! They will greatly expand the usefulness of Crystal. For help with using this amazing synth, try the User Guide or visiting the Yahoo Group dedicated to Crystal.


5-1.gif picture by timandmonica
CM Dominator

Analog Subtractive Synthesizer

dominator.jpg CM Dominator picture by timandmonica

Type: Analog Subtractive
Platform: PC, Linux
Format: VST
License: Freeware (only available with magazine)
Audio example: MP3 demo (100% Dominator)

Here are a few lines about Dominator from the article:

> "One of the best sounding analog synthesizers available anywhere, for any price."

> "From its over-the-top color scheme, to its blistering oscillators, everything about Dominator ensures that this triple-oscillator tyrant will reign over any mix."

> "Dominator rules with brutal waveshaping,,,"

> "Unlike some rulers, though, Dominator will allow you unheard of freedoms..."

Man, whoever wrote that must have majored in English with a minor in Hyperbole. But I must admit, the deeper I got into Dominator, the more surprised I was. Maybe I just didn't like the design or something, but my first instinct was to not like it. However, I gradually began to fall for its combination of great sounds and simplicity to program. It's also very full-featured synth for something so simple to use. It's a great synth for those of you who are just beginning to learn subtractive synthesis as there are many really good patches to start with that are easily caressed into anything you might need them to be.

Dominator is distributed with Computer Music Magazine only


5.gif picture by timandmonica
u-he Zebra CM

Analog Subtractive Synthesizer

ZebraCM.jpg Zebra CM picture by timandmonica
Type: Analog Subtractive
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
Format: VST, AU
License: Freeware (only available with magazine)
Audio example: MP3 demo

On the exact opposite side of the spectrum as the #5 CM Dominator sits the #4 u-he Zebra CM - quiet, unassuming, and unhyped. In fact, even unhyped is a little overdoing it. Nobody would even say what features this free synth was going to have until you actually bought the magazine and tried it yourself! People at KVR were asking the developer what the features would be, but he wouldn't tell. And the usually happy-to-toot-their-own-horn CM Mag had precious little to add.

It ends up that the CM edition of Zebra is about as kick-butt as a free VST can get, both in terms of its sound quality and its uniqueness. It is also a highly flexible synth, being able to pound out aggresive leads as easily as beautiful, lush soundscapes, and all with a unique character. I guess you could say that Zebra has its own sound, although not everyone may notice. If you've heard and played with enough of them over the years you probably start to develop a sense that can tell them apart, or tell you if they are nothing special as well!

In my humble opinion Zebra CM is the best sounding synth on this list, and is worth more than the $15 for the magazine in itself. In fact, all of the CM synths on this list are available in every issue, as the "CM Studio" is a progressive collection that builds on itself with each new release. Get it now!

u-he Zebra CM is distributed with Computer Music Magazine only


3.gif picture by timandmonica
Andreas Ersson polyIblit

Analog Subtractive Synthesizer

polyiblit.png polyIblit picture by timandmonica

Type: Vector/Granular/Wavesequencing Synthesizer/Sampler
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
License: Freeware
Audio example: MP3 demo (current version)

An oldie but a goodie, polyIblit is either one of the most underrated or overrated synths ever. It depends on who you talk to, and I am reserving my opinion on this one. There is a lot to like about it, no matter what side of the line you stand. The first is the sound of the oscillators. Developer Andreas Ersson employs a process he dubs "Band Limited Impulse Train", which is where the "blit" comes from. I don't fully understand the technology, but it has something to do with limiting part of the frequencies of the oscillator, which prevents aliasing. I'm sure it's not simply a low-pass filter, or at least I hope it's not! "Band Limited Impulse Train" would be about the fanciest way to say something like that if it were. :-)

polyIblit's 3 oscillators pump out saw, triangle, square, pulse, or noise, and are fed through one of three filter modes (with resonance). The signal path then goes to 4 tempo-synced LFO's, and/or 4 ADSR envelopes. The modulation implementaion (say that 10 times fast...) is amazing, and rivals the flexibility of a real modular.

Another excellent thing missing from so many free synth but here in spades is one of the most logical interfaces ever! It almost rivals the Minimoog for common sense layouts. If you are new to synthesis and have a difficult time understanding functions and/or signal flow, I would highly recommend polyIblit as a synth to cut your teeth on. Everything is clearly (if not blandly) and logically laid out for quick, easy access to any point of the signal path. You also don't need to access that which you don't understand. This would be a straight-forward synth if you just used the oscillators and filters - you couldn't get lost!

And on a final note, if you just need a monosynth, grab iBlit while you're over there. It is the monophonic version. (Get it? iBlit? polyIblit?) I use them both, actually, as iBlit has a lower CPU overhead....


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Wusik Wusikstation CM

Vector/Granular/Wavesequencing Synthesizer/Sampler

wusikstationcm.jpg Wusikstation CM picture by timandmonica

Type: Vector/Granular/Wavesequencing Synthesizer/Sampler
Platform: PC, Linux, Mac OSX
License: Freeware
Audio example: MP3 demo (current version)

Wusikstation CM is basically version 1 of the mighty Wusikstation by producer and software developer William K. There is quite a difference between the current version 5 and the CM version. However, if you just change your mentality a bit, you could get along just fine with the free CM version. It is a very unique VST instrument, and as long as you aren't always trying to compare it in your head to what the current version offers this very second, you will have an impressive wavetable synth ready to go in your plug-in folder!

The full version of Wusikstation may have the biggest ratio of features to price of any commercial VST. You can buy the full version for $39.95, and I believe there is even a discount for registered CM users (I bought the upgrade but can't remember what I paid!) For a feature list try this link.

If you are thinking of upgrading or just want to learn more, check out the free instruction videos and the user manual, both free at

Wusikstation CM is distributed with Computer Music Magazine only


1-1.gif picture by timandmonica
Ogo KarmaFX Synth

Semi-Modular Synthesizer

buykarmafxsynth.jpg KarmaFX picture by timandmonica

Type: Semi-Modular Synthesizer
Platform: PC, Linux
Format: VST
License: Commercial, with 30 day demo available
Audio example: MP3 demo

KarmaFX is a monster of a modular synth. I don't know of anything else quite like it. It is similar to Native Instruments Reaktor, but it is much easier to use. It is similar to SynthEdit, but it does not export your creations as static, never changing VST's. It is similar to Buzz, but KarmaFX runs as a VST plug-in directly within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), and Buzz does not.

It definitely fills a gap in that you can be cruising right along in a recording or songwriting session and suddenly realize that you need a certain sound; one that none of your current plug-ins can create. If you had KarmaFX, you would be saved! Just pull up an instance of it and start connecting the pre-configured modules together. You can custom make just about any instrument or effect you can dream of, in a much friendlier environment that Reaktor.

There is a PDF manual that comes with it, as well as tutorials and a helpful forum for direct questions. If you are curious about the inner workings of instruments or effects, but you cringe at the thought of reading through 900-page manuals or taking weeks to make a simple bass synth, go ahead and download the 30-day demo of KarmaFX. The demo doesn't save and it times out periodically, but it should give you enough of a chance to tell if it does what you want it to and at a level you can understand!

KarmaFX is now out of beta and thus is offered
for free as a 30-day demo only.

So there you have it - my take on The Top 10 Freeware Synths, as published by Computer Music Magazine. I hope you've enjoyed the read!

Hydrogen Drum Software

Drum Machine (Sampler, Arranger)
Platform: Mac, PC, Linux
Format: Standalone (exports audio & MIDI)
Price: FREE!


For BFD 1.5 users who wish for a better way to create drum beats or for BFD 2 users who don't use the new sequencer. This actually should work with any MIDI-capable drum software such as BFD, Superior Drummer, DrumCore, Addictive Drums, to name just a few.

Yesterday I fell into my "once-every-six-months Linux kick" and was screwing around with LMMS (dang impressive once you figure it out) and Hydrogen. I never really gave Hydrogen much time in the past but assumed it was one of the better free drum programs available due to it being included with every Linux studio distro. So now that I am really looking for a better way to lay out drums for a typical song structure, I decided to give it another try.

The Hydrogen interface

WOW! I am impressed with this program! I figured the whole thing out in 5-10 minutes and it does EXACTLY what I was hoping to find in other programs.

Here's a quick walk-through:


Click "Mode" to toggle Pattern Mode or Song Mode. Pattern Mode will repeat the measure that you're constructing in the Pattern Editor, Song Mode will play the entire song as laid out in the Song Editor.

Song Mode


Lay out your song structure in the Song Editor. Click on the first unused track/pattern on the left, name it, and start creating a beat for that pattern (verse 1, for example) below. You can create up to 32 tracks/patterns.



The Pattern Editor is where you create and edit your drum beats. It works like any other piano roll editor, including Reaper's. Use your MIDI keyboard, click away with your mouse or use your QWERTY keyboard (according to the manual, anyway). Notice velocity handles are visible depending on which instrument you have selected. This saves confusion of which instrument's velocity you're editing!

Pattern Editor


Supports divisions up to 32nd notes, and triplets as well. "Size" sets the number of quarter notes in the pattern (the length of the pattern, such as 16, 32, etc.) Resolution defines the timing (8th note triplets, for example.) Triplets are in the lower half of the drop-down and are noted with a T.

Size / Resolution


Now go back to the song editor and draw in which bars you want each pattern/track to play in. One feature I could not find was markers, which would be very helpful.



Once you have a few patterns going with multiple instruments in each, you'll definitely want one of these: a Mixer!


The Linux version comes complete with LAPSDA effects but the Windows version does not. I'm not sure about the Mac version. Since I plan on just exporting the MIDI and working with BFD inside of Reaper, effects are not an issue with me since Reaper includes more than 100!


Don't like the included drum sounds? Go to the Instrument Rack and import WAV, AIFF, or FLAC samples to assemble your own kit. You haves 16 layers available per instrument (sample).



There is a page full of pre-assembled Hydrogen-format drum kits here, but you can directly download those kits from within the program! Here we see the strength of Hydrogen's Linux roots in action.

Kit Import


In addition to importing and layering samples, the Instrument Rack also gives you an ADSR envelope, gain, mute group, cutoff, resonance, and a really cool Random Pitch knob. I tried this on a rhythm that used a low tom on 16th notes to carry the groove and the random pitch really made a huge difference in humanizing the sound. Solo'd, it sounded a bit extreme, but thrown into the mix it came across as lively and realistic. And speaking of randomizing, if you right-click on the instrument name in the Pattern Editor (not the Instrument Rack) you can choose Randomize Velocity, as well as Mute, Lock, Solo, Clear Notes, Fill Notes, and Delete.

Random Pitch


And this is where we tie all this into your DAW - EXPORT TO MIDI! Create the beats and overall song structure for your whole song and export the MIDI information to your DAW, then trigger the MIDI track with BFD, Superior Drummer, DrumCore, Addictive Drums, or any of the myriad drum samplers out there.

Export to MIDI


Of course if you like the kits available in Hydrogen, or you choose to import your own favorite samples, you can just export the audio directly as a stereo file. Exporting multi-track files is a bit more work, however. You would have to solo each track and export them one by one to be able to further mix and process within Reaper (which I highly recommend!) or your favorite DAW. You would also want to be as sure as possible that your tempo is the one you want your finished song to be played at. This is one reason why this software seems to be a better companion to programs like BFD, which is why I originally posted.

The major feature I would recommend for Hydrogen would be Rewire support. From what I understand about Rewire, though, you may have to pay a license fee to integrate it into your software so I'm not sure this would be possible. Also, Hydrogen is truly free, as in open source, so including proprietary elements could pose a problem on that side as well.

So how about ASIO? If Hydrogen supported ASIO we could use Reaper's ReaRoute ASIO driver to accomplish a Rewire-like communication between programs (minus sync).

Probably the best solution to accomplish this kind of integration right now would be to install JACK. JACK is an audio server that allows routing of audio from any part of your computer to any other part. The big benefit with JACK is that it has a PC versopn, Mac version, Linux version and others, and that it provides accurate synchronization between programs. This means you could lay out the patterns and overall song structure within Hydrogen and receive that audio stream within your DAW to create other parts of your song around. When you pressed stop on JACK, all audio streams would stop. And you wouldn't have to keep exporting files whenever you wanted to change something. Then when you are done, you just export MIDI and bring in the big boys such as BFD to play your real samples!

I hope this will become a part of some of our reader's workflow. I anticipate it being a big part of mine from here on out!

Downoad Button

Windows, Mac, Linux

MRT University: What is a VST plug-in?


Music and Recording Toolbox Special: What is a VST Plug-in?

Level: All skill levels


My goal is to make this blog a place that people with any level of experience can get excited about. The last thing I would want to hear from someone is "Well this is all fine and nice, but what the heck is a VST anyway?" It is for that reason that I have written this post today!

VST is an abbreviation for Virtual Studio Technology. It was invented by the German pro audio company Steinberg, most famous for their Cubase line of recording software. A plug-in is software that plugs in to another piece of software, thus extending the other's functionality. Steinberg's idea was that they didn't need to spend all their resources attempting (and most likely failing) to make Cubase all things to all people. They could instead sell a core product that could then be shaped into anything the customer needed through the use of plug-ins. If you own a vocal production room, you may only want a few specific kinds of processing available. But if you record and mix rock bands, you will probably need a wide palette of tools available to you at the push of a button. It surely wouldn't make sense for any company to design countless versions of their software hoping to cater to every possible client. So they addressed the monumental problem of meeting every client's needs by simply creating a standard that any software developer could freely write plug-ins for, and any customer could easily find those plug-ins by looking for the VST logo.

I don't think Steinberg knew what "VST" would come to mean in the world of computer-based recording when they imagined it. It has grown from an attempt to create a standard that people would gravitate to, to the most popular studio plug-in format in the world, and that by far. Probably the single most important contribution to VST's current dominance came from a man by the name of Jeff McClintock. In 1999, Jeff released a software package titled "SynthEdit", and it went on to change the entire landscape of computer recording dramatically. You see, the most help that Steinberg offered developers for writing VST's was their SDK, which is a Software Development Kit. It is useful because it provides an environment in which to write the plug-in. It provides organization, code shortcuts, and more.

But SynthEdit was much more than this: it was an entire graphical development environment like Dreamweaver or Photoshop. Before, developers would try to create a digital copy of an oscillator for a synth, for example, by typing lines of code that were approximations of an analog oscillator. Then they would have to write the code that would connect that oscillator to a filter, which was also coded line by line. And after you went through the entire process of creating a synth, you then had to use a separate layout program to create the GUI (Graphical User Interface) that the user would see to make those oscillators and filters work! This was a prohibitively overwhelming process for anyone with the exception of those with extraordinary patience and programming skills. Unfortunately, that ruled out nearly every creative person with a good idea for a VST!

The appeal of SynthEdit was that it turned that nightmarish process into a point, click, and drag operation. To work with an oscillator, you simply had to select one of the pre-coded oscillator modules (which are graphically represented) and connect it to a similar filter module. This took no programming knowledge; only a click, drag, and VOILA - instant signal path! Not only that, but SynthEdit had an entire graphic layout workspace that conformed to the VST standard built right in. Now anyone with $50 and a little curiosity could create their own synth, EQ, reverb, or any other VST they could imagine from start to finish - all with one simple and intuitive tool. And just as importantly, it could all be done with a fraction of the skill and time it would take to work with Steinberg's SDK.

It didn't take long before VST's were being created and offered for free by the hundreds via the web. This phenomenon not only popularized Steinberg's VST plug-in standard, but their recording software as well. Now anyone could buy Steinberg's Cubase and also get any number of add-on plug-ins to customize their virtual studio for free!  Later, other DAW developers began supporting the VST standard as well as the then-ubiquitous DX standard from Microsoft.  Currently, most PC DAW dev's support VST only.

You might be thinking "If it's so easy for someone to make a VST, aren't there just a bunch of amateurs releasing nothing but crapware out there?" This is a valid question, and that conclusion is partly true. Creating a high-quality plug-in, especially an emulation of a high-quality hardware synth or audio processor, is usually no simple feat, though this depends on the complexity of the gear attempting to be emulated. Just because it is easy to connect an oscillator to a filter in SynthEdit does not mean it will automatically sound musical! (Can you imagine connecting random traces together on a circuit board and expecting pleasing results?) There is a reason certain pieces of hardware sound as good as they do, and much of that is the result of a well-conceived signal path and architecture, which is in turn the result of enormous hours of research and development!

The best sounding components on an analog hardware audio processor, or 'outboard gear', as studio lingo goes, may be extremely complex and full of many smaller components, but the modules included for free in SynthEdit are not as likely to include something that exotic. Thus emulating exotic gear could require a high degree of skill because one may have to code the component themselves. There would also be the possibility that another programmer had created that particular module and had it for sale. As I said earlier, much of this scenario depends on the original design that is attempting to be emulated. There are some pieces of outboard gear that function well that also have an unusally simple but clever design, even manufactured with common, inexpensive parts. Things like these are common in the world of free VST's. In fact, one can find the same classic piece of gear independently developed by several different people, and the only tangible difference is in the way they laid out the GUI! I guess if I had to pick something to complain about, I'd gladly have it be that I had too many choices of free stuff and I needed to choose the best one for me. :-)

It should be also noted that more and more VST developers that cut their teeth with SynthEdit are becoming serious programmers and learning how to code their own oscillators or other "modules". This makes their VST's sound more unique because they no longer solely rely on the pre-assembled code within SynthEdit. There are also developers who code the entire audio portion of their VST with the Steinberg SDK or even the C++ programming language, then use SynthEdit only for it's easy graphical layout capabilities. I am grateful that SynthEdit hasn't solely become a tool to create a world of prefabricated add-ons, but has instead offered interested developers an unintimidating and welcoming environment to begin and grow their talent. This hand-held first step has grown beginners into talented developers releasing some of the most unique and high-quality software we have available today!

So in review:

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology.
VST is a plug-in format (the most popular one!)
VST plug-ins extend another software's functionality.
VST's are where they are today largely because of SynthEdit.
VST's are what we discover and present to you through VST Discovery!


DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Platform: PC, Linux
Format: Standalone
Price: FREE!

It's hard to write and record any music, which this blog is all about, without a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). A DAW is the hub of a music creation suite, encompassing audio recording and editing, MIDI recording and editing, and all aspects of the mixing process. Mastering is also many times done within a DAW. And VST's plug-in to the DAW and allow you to record the output of the instrument directly to an audio and/or MIDI track. So if I didn't point you to a good, free DAW, this blog wouldn't be a lot of use for those of you who don't have one already.

The problem is, full-featured free DAW's are very hard to come by. I have always guessed that a Digital Audio Workstation would require more time and greater knowledge to create than an EQ or even a synth, and the lack of an abundance of free options in this area somewhat confirms my guess. Here's a weird fact: the best and most full-featured free DAW's are only available for the Linux operation system! This is odd because in nearly every other free music software category Windows is king.

There are other ways to record a song on a PC other than a DAW. One is by using free trackers such as Psycle or Aodix. Another is by using demo versions of major commercial DAW's with little restrictions (such as being non time-limited) such as the unexpiring Fruity Loops demo. You could also use software such as Reaper or Temper, who offer downloads of the full, unrestricted software and have an 'honor system' in place, trusting the customer to pay if they are still getting use from the software after 30 days. DISCLAMIER - I am not condoning using any software outside of its licensing terms!

One of the most full-featured tools for recording on Windows is the unexpiring freeware version of MUTOOLS MU.LAB FREE, created by developer Jo Langie. I should mention that Jo also has an unrestricted version available as well for 49 Euros (about $70). I will say up front, though - MU.LAB is a pretty unique DAW. If you are new to all this, it may not matter. If you have spent years learning every possible shortcut in Pro Tools (the industry standard) and are totally married to the workflow, I have a feeling this would not be for you :-)

First off: the limitations. The freeware version of MU.LAB is limited to 6 tracks. But before you think "There's no way I could do an entire song with 6 tracks!", let me explain the way MU.LAB appropriates tracks. There are 6 tracks visible and available at any one time. However, you can have as many audio and MIDI parts within each track as you desire. This is probably better than bouncing, but certainly less easier to work with than single dedicated tracks per part. So when I say that it's free, there is actually a price. The price is convenience. But hey, beggars can't be choosers, and if you can make "Hey Jude" on four-tracks, six with unlimited parts could probably at least get you going. :-)

So what is so cool about MU.LAB FREE besides offering unlimited 'parts'? Well, one cool bonus is that you can create a song from start to finish with no other add-ons (although VST's are supported). Jo includes a useful modular soft-synth named MUSYNTH (what else?) and a host of other processors including reverb, parametric EQ, gates, even a fancy tube limiter! There is a really cool modular routing tool to send audio and effects any which way you like. I think probably the most interesting thing about MU.LAB, however, is its refreshingly simple way to create and record music. Simplicity has always been the focus for the developer, and he has proven his commitment to this end with the newly released version 2 of MU.LAB.

Go ahead and try it. You have nothing to lose, and you may gain a new favorite way to make your music!

MU.LAB FREE is free software

For an excellent walk-through of
MU.LAB, simply click here

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