Review: Arturia V Collection 5

Virtual, vintage heaven … and a Synclavier
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Virtual, vintage heaven … and a Synclavier
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Arturia’s V Collection has been the go-to bundle for fans of vintage gear for several years now. With impressive virtualizations of classic analog synths—ranging from the ARP 2600 to the Yamaha CS-80—even casual users had access to the dream synths of a previous era.

And with each iteration, Arturia has added new instruments and steadily improved the collection, making it both more useful and more affordable. Even so, the list of enhancements in the new V Collection 5 is nothing short of astonishing, featuring both state-of-the-art modeled instruments and a show-stopping version of the NED Synclavier, one of the most sought-after synths of all time.

The Big Picture

While the new instruments are arguably the biggest attractions in the V Collection, there are quite a few enhancements—and an interesting subtraction—across the entire collection. Cosmetically, Arturia has finally addressed its interfaces, which were originally designed for much lower screen resolutions. Now, they are all gorgeous and legible, including on 4K displays. What’s more, all of the synths sport slicker graphics and much more intuitive browsing of their ever-expanding libraries.

For artists who are primarily preset-based, Arturia’s Analog Lab 2 plug-in now includes patches from every new instrument in the collection, with enhanced browsing and thoughtful macros for the most useful parameters of any given sound. As for Arturia’s Spark 2 beat synthesizer, it is no longer part of the V Collection and some users may bemoan that omission. Nonetheless, the five new instruments are both impressive and deep, and for some, this may offset the pain of losing the Spark drum machine.

Farfisa V

Farfisa V Like the Vox Continental, the Farfisa organs were mainstays in both ’60s pop and rock hits, as well as on countless new wave tracks of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Farfisa’s Cheez-Whiz textures could be modified via combinations of push-button stops with labels like “String” and “Oboe,” which of course sounded nothing like their names. But the sound—especially combined with spring reverb and tremolo—is essential for conjuring up that retro vibe.

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Over the years, countless software and hardware re-creations of the Farfisa have captured its sound for modern keyboardists, so let’s just get this out of the way: The Arturia Farfisa V absolutely nails the flavor of this vintage organ. But chances are good that you probably have a Farfisa emulation in your collection already, so what makes the Arturia version worth a second look?

Well, for starters, it’s got a wonderful set of effects that are tailor-made for transistor organ, including an amp/speaker combo that includes the ability to move the mic on or off axis (with credible results). There is also a set of five additional effects, cleverly implemented as guitar pedals that can be re-ordered and edited directly, and an assortment of reverbs that includes convolutions of the original Farfisa spring, along with Eminent and King models. Between the modeled Farfisa and these processing tools, along with the spot-on inclusion of the Farfisa’s quirky approach to splitting the bass and upper keyboard ranges, you can pretty much cover everything from Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” to Steve Reich’s “Four Organs.”

But for sound designers, that was just a bonus to the Farfisa V’s extremely clever additive synthesis tools. Yep, in classic Arturia fashion, you can pop the top off the Farfisa V and expose a set of 48 faders that operate either as volume controls for individual harmonics or as a rudimentary way to “draw” waveforms (e.g., 24 faders at max followed by 24 at minimum setting creates a square wave). From there, you have a simple AR envelope, some additional tone controls and the ability to switch between paraphonic and polyphonic modes. In practice, this is a blissfully straightforward approach to basic additive synthesis, and in combination with the modeled amp and effects, it is a fantastic source of unusual and warm textures that go far beyond the realm of the transistor organ.

Stage-73 V

Stage-73 V Like the Farfisa, Rhodes emulations are plentiful, whether painstakingly sampled or thoughtfully modeled. So with tons of competing plug-ins, Arturia wisely gave their modeled Stage-73 V a boatload of customization options. For starters, there are eight models (called Harmonic Profiles) with descriptive names like Noisy Open and Third Boost that conjure different varieties of Rhodes instruments, complete with wear and tear. Each model can then be further modified with parameters for pickup distance and/or alignment, as well as customizations for hammer hardness and tone-bar resonance. Combined, these tools offer compelling versions of vintage Rhodes keyboards, as well as more modern electro-acoustic sounds.

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As with the Farfisa, the Stage-73 V also includes its own amp/mic simulation and a similar array of configurable pedal effects, including chorus, flanger, phaser, delay, compressor, overdrive, and a couple of wah-wah pedal types. So between Arturia’s impressive models, the ability to fine-tune the character of the tines and their pickups, and the comprehensive integrated effects, the Stage-73 V is quite possibly the best non-sampled Rhodes emulation I’ve heard yet.

B-3 V

B-3 V Whereas the newly modeled B-3 V is designed to capture the classic Hammond sound—and it does a solid job, at that—Arturia’s enhancements are what truly distinguish it from the competition. In addition to the dual manuals, drawbars, percussion stops and Leslie emulation, the B-3 V offers a set of parameters for tailoring the more conventional sonic aspects of the B-3. With these, you can fine-tune the amount of leakage from the drawbars and tonewheels, enhance brilliance and/or key click, and adjust the attack and release for both the upper and lower manuals. This alone gives the B-3 V an edge in the authenticity department. That said, the Leslie emulation rolled off a few more highs than I’d prefer, though it is easy enough to add them back with a touch of outboard EQ.

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With persuasive B-3 emulations in place, things get a lot more interesting when you start tinkering with Arturia’s innovative Voice Modulators, which allow you to morph the drawbar settings using multipoint envelopes, LFOs, or step-sequencers. The approach is straightforward, too. Each of the ten available voice modulators has a “target” drawbar setting for both the upper and lower manuals. By applying the bidirectional modulation options, you can then animate the settings either subtly or abruptly. With LFOs and envelopes, you can create unique pads, and step-sequenced drawbars must be heard to be fully appreciated. They really sound fantastic and I expect to hear this sound in forward-thinking tech house tracks within the year.

As for effects, the B-3 V includes the same reverb and guitar pedal options as the Farfisa V and Stage-73 V (minus the compressor option), providing even more timbral versatility.

Piano V

Piano V I have a confession to make about the Piano V: Because I downloaded the V Collection 5 overnight, I wasn’t clear about the file size for each instrument. So, as I played the various pianos, I thought “These are really nice sampled pianos!” Imagine my astonishment to discover the fact that they’re all modeled, with impressive customization features that govern everything from string tension and hammer characteristics to the position and level of up to four microphones in a variety of stereo arrangements. Mind = blown.

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There are nine different piano models, including conventional grands and uprights, as well as exotic options made of glass or metal. These can be tailored as described above, with additional amenities for mechanical properties like soundboard resonance, lid position, along with pedal and hammer artifacts.

Fourteen convolution reverbs provide options ranging from warehouses and traditional concert halls to intimate wooden rooms. At the end of the chain is an EQ for minor frequency adjustments that can be saved as part of the preset. As for velocity response, it can also be fine-tuned using a five-point curve, so pretty much every playing style is covered. All in all, this is an incredible set of pianos and a stunning technological achievement by any standard.

Synclavier V

When Arturia announced that they had collaborated with Cameron Jones (the original designer) on a Synclavier emulation, hardcore synth geeks rejoiced. After thirty years, we could finally experience the sound of its legendary synthesis engine, which combined additive and FM synthesis in a way that no other synth has since.

For starters, the Synclavier V’s default front panel offers easy access to essential macros for quickly tweaking things like the amp and harmonic envelopes, arpeggiator and basic timbral functions. From there, you can pop open a second panel for deeper control of the envelopes, along with the synth’s FM, vibrato, and chorusing features. These offer plenty of instant gratification without having to delve too deeply into the Synclavier V’s more exotic amenities, and most users will be more than happy with the options here.

While intuitive macros are a great way to modify Arturia’s impressive bank of both new and original presets, digging into the Synclavier V’s engine is where the action really is. Arturia’s new interface is light-years ahead of the original’s monochrome, green computer monitor, but learning the specifics of its fluidly morphing textures requires time, patience and a working knowledge of both FM and additive synthesis. If both of those skills are in your bag of tricks, you’ll be blown away by the array of sonic possibilities here.

Fig. 1: Plot the harmonic spectrum, FM amount, tuning, and other parameters for the Synclavier V’s carrier and modulator as a series of frames on a timeline, then morph between the frames as you like. Despite the complexity, I’ll try to summarize the Synclavier’s approach to synthesis in plain terms. A single voice can contain up to 12 blended and/or key-split “partials” (the original synth only supported four, so this alone is worth noting). Each partial consists of a two-operator FM synth, with both the carrier and modulator offering additive capabilities. That is, instead of simple sine waves for the operators, you can sculpt the levels and phase of up to 24 discrete harmonics for each, then apply envelopes for volume (carrier) and timbre (modulator) to animate the sound. If you’ve programmed either Ableton Operator or Xfer Serum, you’ve already tinkered with this style of additive synthesis, but the Synclavier’s inclusion of time slicing is where things get a little crazy (see Figure 1).

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Simply put, you can plot the harmonic spectrum, tuning, volume, and FM amount for both the carrier and modulator as a series of up to fifty “frames” in a timeline. Then, you can morph (smoothly or sharply) between them, based on their positions on the timeline, with transitions that can range from a few milliseconds to thirty seconds. Remember, this is in addition to the envelope settings for the carrier/modulator pair.

Now multiply that by 12 and switch over to the mixer section. Each of the 12 partials includes settings for volume, pan, transposition, pseudo-chorusing, FM level, additional FM ratio and fine-tuning controls, and keyboard tracking. You can also keymap each partial to a specific keyboard range, with phase-accurate cross-fading as a bonus. Then there are the performance elements for each partial, which offer up the ability to assign things like velocity, Aftertouch, expression pedal, and so forth to 16 destinations, including FM amount and time-slicing rates, as well as more common destinations like volume, tuning, and pan.

Naturally, Arturia also includes an effects section for thickening the sometimes brittle sound of this type of synthesis. Here you will find three inline processors connected in series, with options similar to the guitar pedals found in the previously mentioned instruments.

Some users have bemoaned the lack of sampling tools in the Synclavier V, but they’re missing the point, as even the original’s sampling features are fairly dated by today’s standards. The original sequencer is also missing and I’m not reading any gripes about that online. Of course, NED’s additive re-synthesis features are also absent, but this is a 1.0 release and there is already more than enough for seasoned pros to get lost in its sound-design capabilities.

The level of complexity in a single Synclavier V patch is an order of magnitude more detailed than almost every digital synth I’ve ever used. Granted, you’ll have to forego familiar synthesis tools like filters (and LFOs for anything but vibrato, tremolo, and panning), so if you take the plunge, you’ll be in unfamiliar territory for a long time. For some synthesists, the effort will be well worth it, as these are sounds that no other synth can produce. Period. Even a la carte at $199, the Synclavier V is hard to resist.

Collect ’Em All

As a vintage gear nut, I’ve been a fan of Arturia’s V Collection for years, and version 5 really puts it over the top in versatility and affordability. With across-the-board improvements to the earlier synths, four brand-new modeled instruments with tons of intelligent features, and a stunning re-imagining of the Synclavier, this upgrade is a must-have for current users. And if you’re just getting started with a new computer rig, the V Collection 5 might actually be everything you’ll need for very long time.

Snap Judgment

Pros Sixteen high-quality re-creations of legendary vintage gear, including the NED Synclavier. Impressive modeled piano and electroacoustic instruments. Substantial interface improvements. Enhanced preset library navigation.

Cons Spark 2 no longer included. Some modeled instruments take a long time to render.

Bottom Line

Virtual, vintage heaven…and a Synclavier.