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"Native Instruments has adroitly been evolving the interfaces of most of their products into a single interface paradigm.
Their goal is to make it simple to go from one NI product to another without having to completely relearn a new interface
every time. By eliminating a steep learning curve for each product, the company has now developed their own "Native ecosystem"
that cuddles their customers instead of challenges them with each new update or new product announcement. Quite savvy..."
"The only downside is that FM8 only does FM synthesis. If you're looking for something a little more versatile, gaze no farther
than NI's Absynth."
"I wasn't crazy about a couple of the effects and there's aliasing on the Morph function, but certainly not a lot to complain about
in this stellar update."
April 27, 2007
../ TestDrive: Native Instruments FM8
Devotees of the of the incredibly popular Yamaha DX7 synthesizer,
which single-handedly kicked analog synthesis to the curb in the early '80s, rejoiced when Native Instruments released their original
FM synthesis emulator, the FM7. Now Native is back with FM8, the second incarnation of this unique DX7 emulator, and once again fans
have something to cheer about.
The Interface shines one Native Instruments' FM8
The update brings a new audio engine, an interface polish and many
expanded features to the FM8's palette. Most noticeable is the new power plant, which adds nuclear energy and even a sense of urgency
to the FM8's sound. The vibrant sonic characteristics actually make the FM7 sound somewhat dull by comparison, a significant feat. FM8
comes with a whopping 960 presets, including all the FM7 patches, and is fully Kore compatible.
The new Graphical User Interface (GUI) takes the severe pain out of
programming FM patches, a problem for the synthesis methodology and one of the reasons that eventually caused it to lose favor and
eventually go the way of hair mousse. The first order of business for NI's development team was to streamline and simplify the FM
synthesis programming. FM8 breaks the process down into Easy Edit and Advanced Edit modes, which will meet the needs of newcomers
and experts alike. Marry that to a gorgeous, easy-to-use interface and the user can quickly come to terms with the wily beast that
is FM synthesis. But wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves here.
FM8's arpeggiator is not only flexible, but also extremely easy to use
FM synthesis, the audio technology behind the DX7, was discovered by
John Chowning at Stanford University in the late sixties, and patented in 1975. It was then licensed to Yamaha who in turn patented
their hardware implementation of FM, giving them a stranglehold on the market for the next decade.
Frequency Modulation synthesis, otherwise known as FM, starts with a
simple waveform dubbed a Carrier that is used to modulate another waveform often called a Modulator. The programmer can
add up to eight of these "Operator" waveforms each containing different algorithmic relationships, and then route the result
through filters and effects to get a final sound. The original DX7 had six operators and 32 fixed algorithms, however NI's FM8 allows
a virtually infinite array of its eight operators through the software's FM matrix. This advanced action takes place in Expert Mode,
where true aficionados of FM Synthesis will go ballistic. Any of the 32 waveforms (Operators) can act as a Modulator, a Carrier or
both in the Matrix, and the Modulators can be routed to the Carriers culminating in limitless sonic potential.
Now if all this is getting confusing, don't worry. Native Instruments
did an outstanding job of corralling all this commotion into an intuitive and attractive interface. FM8's main window is broken
down into four main sections, The Application Control, the Editor, the Navigator and a virtual Keyboard. The Application Control give
you access to Open/Save/Import controls, CPU load and Patch attributes, The Navigator sets up the Editor, where most of the tweaking
takes place, and contains tab navigation for the now familiar Native Instruments' Browser, which organizes the 960 included presets
into categories, subcategories, the effects and more. The virtual keyboard can be relieved of its duty to free up screen real estate,
a nice attribute.
A new addition to FM8 is the fully programmable Arpeggiator. Native
didn't just fax the feature set in — this tool has maximum flexibility and can sync-to-tempo, loop start, sync-start,
and can play once or repeatedly to a maximum of 32 steps. If you want to go really nutty, every parameter can be manually modulated
and all attributes can be randomized for each step. A tweaker's delight!
However, all the eye candy and usability in the world doesn't mean
a thing if it ain't got that swing. And as we mentioned earlier, the FM8's sound quality doesn't come up wanting. However, the one
attribute that makes this synth truly something special is that not only is it a great FM synth emulator, but its sonic fingerprint is
quite distinctive. With many virtual synths sounding exactly alike, inserting a FM8 patch into a track is like opening a window in a
stuffy room. The crystalline, shimmering pads, dark ethereal textures and crisp melodic percussive sounds will energize your music
for a lift that few other virtual synths can deliver.
FM8 is available for $339 / €299 from authorized dealers worldwide
and in Native Instruments' Online Shop. The update from FM7: $119 / €99. More information on
Native Instruments FM8.