Could this technology eventually replace Gigastudio?
Review at a Glance
What is it? A unique softsynth based upon the synthesis methods of the Hartmann Neuron
What does it do? Creates unique sounds using a method call 'resynthesis'
Who would use it? Anybody who is looking for unique sounds
How does it sound? Unique and Amazing
What is so great about it? The sounds unique and amazing part, plus it offers a lot of depth for programmers
What is not so great about it? It's power-hungry and it's expensive
Review Summary? In a marketplace flooded with interesting soft-synths, the Neuron still stands apart for its unique sound and powerful interface.
Hartmann Neuron VS
About two years ago when the Hartmann Neuron came out it was, as they say here in Hollywood, “A critical success”. Almost everybody agreed it was unique and beautiful and sounded amazing. However, unfortunately an only slightly fewer number of people also agreed that they could not afford the $4500 purchase price. So the Neuron has become something of a boutique item, purchased by high-end pros and certain non-pros who have the budget to purchase such an expensive instrument.
Fortunately, there is a second chance for those of us who haven’t quite made the world of the pros and are not heir to any fortune, the Neuron VS, the software only version of the Neuron.
Now, why is the Neuron so cool again?
The Neuron uses a type of synthesis that Hartmann calls “resynthesis”. How this works is that the Neuron analyzes a sample (either the built-in ones or one you provide) and creates from this a “model”. Then, like any other computer-generated model, once built, it can be manipulated. For example if the model were to be of a flute, you could manipulate whether it were to be made of metal or wood. Then you could adjust the size of the flute to be size of a log or the size of a toothpick.
And of course you aren’t limited to things that exist in the real-world. Any sample can be modeled and then manipulated. The possibilities are endless.
So while the endless possibilities thing is cool for sound designers, for people who have to create the interface, not so much. How does one create a GUI that can represent millions of different possibilities without being a big, complicated mess? Turns out the Neuron has that covered as well, with some well-placed joysticks. These joysticks allow the user to manipulate the sound completely free-form in 2D (similar to how you can on the Korg Wavestation, although with very different sonic results).
Sounds complicated, is it hard to use?
Like those TV ads used to say about the game Othello, the Neuron is “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master". Well probably not a lifetime, but to really understand what you are doing will take you some time and a clear understanding of the synthesis method involved. While understanding what you are doing is certainly the best way, one of the nice things about the Neuron is that you can get some very nice and unique results by just fooling around with it.
The presets in the Neuron are much improved over the version of the hardware synth that I tried and so “poking” at the presets gives you a lot of good results, although a lot of the presets tend towards the “ambient” spectrum.
You mean I have to do all that crazy stuff with a mouse?
No, the Neuron comes with a USB-based hardware controller called the “Nuke”. (not for Nuclear device but for the Nucleus of an atom, I swear. The name for American audiences may be a tad unfortunate)
The Nuke contains the core controls of 4 knobs and the joystick controller that looks just like the one on the keyboard version of the Neuron. It also has a dedicated button for switching between which of the 2 resynators or the filter the joystick controls. So between these controls you get a lot of “off-mouse” time.
The bad news is that you have to have the Nuke connected if you want to use the Neuron, so if you want to use it on a plane or any other space-challenged area you may find this a problem. And because the Neuron contains no on-screen keyboard, you will also need to plug in a keyboard controller. So when its time to Neuron, you had better make sure you have some room. I wish the Neuron could have provided some sort of "mouse-only" alternative.
Assigning controllers is as easy as such a task can get, as the Neuron VS dedicates one of its three main screens to just that. So while I would be lying if I said that using the Neuron VS along with the Nuke was as easy as using a keyboard, I would be honest in saying its easy.
Is this the part of the review where you break down and discuss the individual features?
Why yes, it is. But I am going to try and avoid just repeating what you can get from the Neuron website and point out what I think is unique about each module and the possibilities it presents.
Equivalent to the “Oscillator” in most synths, the heart of the Neuron’s unique sound lies here. As previously explained the Neuron uses Resynthesis, which is sort of a Physical Modeling technique that takes the original promises of PM all the way and extends them beyond the realm of trying to recreate sounds and into the realm of sound design. Moving between the various parameters in the Resynators (things like "wood/metal") provides the heart of the Neuron sound.
The Neuron contains two resynators, which makes the inclusion of the Blender necessary. But the blender moves beyond just being a “MIX: A/B” knob and allows you to really cross-pollinate parts from the different resynators. With names like Chromophonic, Intermorph, and Dynamic Transphere, the blender functions as both a flexible routing interface, and an idea generator for names for your next Trance album.
Here things get a little more ordinary. The Shaper consists of a set of fairly standard ADSR envelopes that can be routed to volume, pitch, etc., just like Mom used to make. Of course Mom didn’t teach you about the possibilities of routing the envelope parameters to the Shape and Scape parameters which does make them much more interesting. But really, you can’t get anywhere without envelopes so here they are, and they are easy to use with nice onscreen graphics that allow you to see the shape as you manipulate them.
Unfortunately this module does not feature an equal but opposite module called The Rocker.
What it does provide you with a mostly ordinary LFO module which would be boring if it weren’t so darn useful and cool. Here the fun is not in how you modulate but in what you modulate. Sending LFO’s to the resynators adds even more depth to the sound.
The Slicer is yet another LFO with yet another twist. You can use it what are called “Vertical” and “3D” modes. Hartmann describes these as indescribable, so I won’t try to describe them, but they allow you to have your LFO’s work in entirely different ways, adding yet another layer of options to the ways that you can manipulate the sounds.
Silver is actually an entire screen unto itself, which encompasses the Slicer and Mod modules as well. The Silver module sort of rounds out the Neuron with a multi-mode filter and FX unit. Nothing here is as ground-breaking as the rest of the Neuron VS, but it all sounds great and is used for adding that little bit of “sparkle” (hence the name) to your sound.
Sounds like I am going to need a good manual, does it have one?
Yes. Unfortunately the keyboard Neuron had a great one, but this one is only good. Better than most, still it does suffer from several translation errors and typos. But all and all it is very readable and complete, although it does overdo it a bit on telling you how amazing and awesome the Neuron VS is. If we plunked down $900, I think we got it.
Okay, this is all well and good, but how does it sound?
I can’t really hit this point hard enough; the Neuron VS sounds frickin amazing, right out of the box. More than any other synth I have ever used, hardware or software the Neuron blows your mind on a regular basis and without having to bend over backwards to get there. Especially if you enjoy crazy, chaotic, grungy, digital sort of sounds or really deep 3D sort of sounds the Neuron sounds better than anything ever. How’s that for piling on the hyperbole? But it’s true. I think it also makes change and can extend the battery life of your iPod (not actually true).
Ok ok, I get it, it sounds good but what’s the catch?
The two biggest catches to the VS are performance and price.
The VS is a power-hungry monster. It’s the Mussolini of soft-synths. On my 2.8 GHz PC with 1.5GB of RAM the utilization jumps up to 60-70% just from instantiating the plug-in, and can easily jump right up to 100%. So be warned, you will need a well powered machine, and you are going to need to carve some room on such machine to be able to use the Neuron. Use of VST System Link, or Logic’s Distributed Audio Processing would probably be useful here.
The other catch you probably already saw, the VS is almost $900, no small chunk of change, making the Neuron VS the most expensive soft-synth ever. Is it worth it? Well, that’s a hard one for me, especially when you compare it to something like Logic at $999, and you know, Logic has a feature or two.
But there’s nothing out there even remotely like it, except the Neuron keyboard of course. So if you need unique sounds, and something that could keep even the most experienced synth programmer busy for years, yeah it’s worth it, because you can’t get it anywhere else, at any price.
Anything else before I go?
Yeah, this is not the most important thing, but wanted to throw in one last comment. The Neuron is bee-utiful. Which you ought to expect from a synth named after a designer. From the packaging, to the Nuke, to the screens everything is attractive and elegant. If I had to choose between pretty but boring sounds and ugly with amazing sounds, I’d choose the amazing sounds, but it’s nice to get both.
The Neuron VS, like the original Neuron is an amazing sounding synth. Which with both a unique User Interface and a unique sound, goes where no synth has gone before, at a more affordable price. Aside from its high price and power-hungry nature, the Neuron is the best soft-synth I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few).
Re: Could this technology eventually replace Gigastudio?
Indeed, while it sounds vaguely interesting I don't see how it would replace Giga, since Giga is all about realistic reproduction of existing sounds and not about creating new ones (though obviously, it can do that too)?