Squarely aimed at electronic musicians and media composers alike, Signal is a Kontakt-based instrument that specializes in rhythmic sounds. Output has taken a very focused approach with Signal, appointing it with a comprehensive set of rhythmic modulation tools that make it easy to create the kind of pulsing and driving synth-like elements often heard in modern soundtracks and EDM productions.
At Signal’s core is a set of 50 multisampled sources: 25 “real” instruments such as acoustic pianos, electric guitars and found percussion, and 25 synthesizers, most of which are used to provide simple oscillator waveforms such as sine, sawtooth and lightly-tweaked variations like “Detune Poly.” While 50 sources may seem minimal compared to some sample libraries, Output proves this is more than enough raw material to satisfy a wide range of musical needs.
Signal ships with 500 presets, all of which are expertly programmed (no filler here!) and searchable via the custom Pulse Instruments page. This uses a tagging system that lets you browse for sounds based on attributes such as Organic, Dark and Arpeggiated. It’s an intuitive approach that encourages exploration and makes quick work of finding suitable patches, thanks, in part, because the browser is built in to the instrument and bypasses Kontakt’s own browser, which requires more mousing and menu navigation.
Sounds are generated by what Output calls a Pulse Engine, which is essentially a multisample-plus-modulator module. A patch can use up to two engines/sample-based oscillators, allowing you to layer instruments for more complex or hybrid sounds.
Each Pulse Engine has two rhythm generators, which are referred to as the Main and 2nd Rhythm. Here’s where it gets interesting: Main generators offer four pulse types to choose from—Wave, Step Sequencer, Arpeggiator, and Looper—and the 2nd Rhythm generator offers Wave and Step, all of which can be pressed into service to create any manner of pulsating and heart-pounding accompaniment.
Wave goes beyond familiar LFO shapes, with no less than 45 waveform choices arranged into Simple, Medium, and Complex categories, while Arpeggiator offers 11 modes including Chord, which can take Signal into synth comping territory. Step Sequencer doesn’t modulate pitch, so you won’t be able to program melodic patterns, but it can modulate volume, pan, cutoff frequency, and resonance, along with tube saturation and bite.
Lastly, Looper will repeat a segment of the audio sample, complete with adjustable start point and loop length, which can be set from one bar to 1/64th triplets. The audible effect is somewhat mechanical, but in a good way.
Aesthetically, Signal’s presets run the gamut from delicate, pensive, and ethereal to ominous, threatening, and aggressive. In a word—inspiring. I found plenty of cue-starters to choose from, and by digging into the Pulse Engine’s Advanced edit page, I was able to sharpen my own sound design skills by reverse-engineering some of the presets. Although you can do a lot of damage without ever diving into Signal’s programming options, for those of us who like to tweak, Signal does not disappoint. Wickedly creative and powerful and worthy of a KeyBuy Award.
PROS Expertly crafted sounds. Deeply programmable, yet intuitive.
CONS Can’t import your own samples for use with the Pulse Engines.
If you want to inject some rhythmic energy into your tracks, look no further.