../ TestDrive: Native Instruments Absynth 3
When Native Instruments announced a new version of
Absynth, their popular software synthesizer, many of us at Futuremusic began to noticeably drool. For version 3, Native Instruments (NI)
took the solid foundation of the Absynth platform to the next level by making almost every aspect of the program better.
3 is a must have for any musician with an interest in creating provocative ambient soundscapes, film scoring and the exploration
of dynamic synthesis.
Absynth 3's new Main Window
Absynth's Alien Green interface returns with some new
tricks up its sleeve. NI, who takes a lot of warranted criticism for their clunky interfaces, revised Absynth so that all the
action takes place in one window. Now just clicking named buttons at the top instantly calls up the seven screens,
Main, Patch, Wave, Effect, Env, LFO and MIDI. The
seven are also accessible as F-Key commands. This welcomed modification makes working with Absynth much more concise, and
means it won't take up your precious screen real estate with
multiple windows. Another notorious NI deficit has been the
inability to resize their program's windows (Traktor,
Guitar Rig). Absynth partly addresses this by letting your resize the right side horizontally and the bottom vertically for
changing the timeline and the track height, but there is still
no true Click'n'Drag resizing.
Absynth can either be accessed as a plug-in or as a standalone
application. It runs natively via Core Audio on the Apple platform, and as DirectSound, MME and ASIO 2.0 on the PC.
Absynth's sound engine is powered by three different sound sources dubbed Oscil Modules, each host nine different "modes" -
single oscillator, double oscillator, ring modulator, FM,
Subtractive Synthesis, Classic Sampling, Granular Sampling, Stereo External Input and Fractalization. Fractalization is
a new mode which applies mathematical formulas to the waveform
for creating undulating and formant-like sounds. The Stereo
External In is another new mode that allows outside sounds to be as a source, used for modulation or, my favorite, to use Absynth
as an effects processor. Nice!
Absynth 3's Waveform Window
NI added a great new feature to the synthesis functions, called
Unison, which allows precise control over the number of voices produced. Up to eight can be specified and transposition
can be detailed for each voice. This allows you to really thicken up a sound for
dense, sophisticated tones..
Absynth's sampling is underrated and can be used in a variety of
ways to create compelling aural textures. Sampling time is restricted to the amount of your computer's RAM, but I recorded
about 2 minutes worth with 1 Gig of memory in our test Mac G5. Granular
Sampling has several modifiers including Grain Size, Density, Speed, as well as a Randomizer for frequency, time and amplitude.
Classic sampling parameters include adjustable start times, loop points and frequency. Definitely explore Absynth's sampling
features to stamp your personal sonic brand on your synthesis creations.
Once you've cooked up a sound, you can apply one of fourteen
different filters, and then stir in some effects before routing it through a mix matrix. This where things get really
fascinating. The filters are wonderful for sculpting, and sound silky smooth. The effects are a little better than average,
and while they provide many options for movement and space,
I'm hoping that version 4 will bring a full repertoire of comprehensive effects to Absynth's palette. You now have the
option to route each source to one of eight different individual
outputs, or through one of 14 different Surround Sound scenarios. Yes, you heard correctly,
Absynth 3 now has full support for full surround sound!
Absynth 3 offers the most flexible and wide-ranging multi-channel
integration of any synthesizer currently available and supports 3.1, 4.1, 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, and 8.0 surround formats.
68 Breakpoints can't be wrong. Note the Surround Sound envelope on the right!
All this is well and good, but what sets Absynth far apart from
its competitors is that almost every parameter can be managed via MIDI controllable, user-defined envelopes. These are no
girly-man envelopes either. Sixty-eight graphically drawn
breakpoints can be applied to parameters way beyond your meat'n'potatoes volume and pan. The possibilities are
virtually endless and you can easily
lose yourself for hours tweaking. The
limitless envelopes allow single sounds to dramatically morph, move and flow in sync with your host program, or based on
"snapable" grid sizes down to 1/32. You can even stagger the triggering of the envelopes so that each one can ignite
at a different interval. And if you haven't soiled your shorts already, each
envelope can be manipulated by an assignable MIDI controller. This opens up the live performance possibilities for
controllers like the new Alesis Photon, Roland's D-Beam, or even your brain with way out products like the
Absynth 3 offers several new envelope features including -
Envelope Groups: Show and hide groups of envelopes,
Multiple Selection: Select multiple breakpoints to then
edit them all simultaneously, Envelope Cursor: A cursor
per envelope indicating the current position makes editing envelopes much easier,
Variable Grid Resolution: Display the optional grid
using a variable resolution: in 8ths, 16ths, 32nds, beats or seconds, and Snap to grid:
Optional when the grid is activated and ideal for tempo-synced envelopes. All the time-based envelope effects means that your
patches can continually evolve for infinite, pulsating and organically-grown sounds.
Absynth's LFO screen shows just how easy assigning MIDI controllers are...
If all this talk of ambient textures makes you think that Absynth
is just for New Age bliss, you haven't witnessed the Devil Inside. Absynth definitely has a dark side, and it's my
secret weapon for creating nasty, grating, dive-bombing basslines
that feel like your vital organs have just been tossed in a food processor. Absynth can easily be the playground bully who beats
you up for your lunch money, and then spits in your face, adding insult to injury. For
Junglists, Industrial producers and anyone else who loves the sound of nails scraping a chalkboard, Absynth is a must.
However if all this tweaking is beyond you, don't fret, Absynth
comes prepackaged with close to 1000 excellent and useful presets with many more to be found online. Absynth 3 from Native
Instruments is $339. For more information hit
We'd like to see NI expand Absynth's effects section based on the
same philosophy of the current Delay-based effects. Incorporating Guitar Rig's distortion engine would be huge, especially with
Absynth's envelope control.
Make sure you download the latest update after purchasing Absynth 3. A few major bugs we encountered on our Mac review copy include no
Copy and Paste, no Command-Z undo, and the RTAS plug-in limited to only stereo out.
Screenshot of Absynth's excellent tutorial DVD. See Off The Record on the left
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