Spectrasonics Trilian How Low Can You Go

Every recording needs bass. Well, maybe not flute duets, but everything else. So every virtual studio needs a soft synth that delivers strong bass. Spectrasonics Trilogy, released in 2002, provided great sampled acoustic and electric bass, and became the go-to virtual bass in many studios. Trilian takes the Trilogy concept into the stratosphere.

Every recording needs bass. Well, maybe not flute duets, but everything else. So every virtual studio needs a soft synth that delivers strong bass. Spectrasonics Trilogy, released in 2002, provided great sampled acoustic and electric bass, and became the go-to virtual bass in many studios. Trilian takes the Trilogy concept into the stratosphere.

You’ll need a hefty computer. The library weighs in at a whopping 34GB, and some presets require more than 2GB of RAM. That’s more than just a separate sample for each key — each key has a number of articulations, and each articulation has several “round robin” samples, so that repeated notes don’t have that identical, machinegun sound. Above all, Trilian is playable.

I installed Trilian in my new Windows 7 PC, and soon discovered that I’m on the bleeding edge of technology. With Image-Line FL Studio 9 as the host, Trilian occasionally freaked out the audio buffer, resulting in loud noise bursts. I’ve reported the problem, and with any luck it’ll be ironed out before you read this. In Steinberg Cubase 5, Trilian was well-behaved.

0310 Spectrasonics Trilian MAIN

HANDS-ON [Click image at left for large version.]

  1. 1. You get eight multitimbral parts, plus a multimode mixer.
  2. 2. Each patch has main, edit, effects, and arpeggiator panels.
  3. 3. The two layers can be mixed, muted, and transposed with these controls.
  4. 4. Six LFOs can be synced to song position for reliable sweeps.
  5. 5. These quick controls affect both filters in a layer.
  6. 6. The envelopes are multi-segment, so the familiar ADSR sliders are just for quick adjustments.
  7. 7. To program your own sound, load a waveform from the library here.
  8. 8. The magnifying-glass buttons open more pages of editing controls.


Acoustic, electric, and synth basses are ready to go in Trilian. There are four acoustic basses: one from Trilogy, one from Bass Legends, and two new ones. The new ones are actually four-channel recordings of the same acoustic bass, split into two pairs of miked and direct combinations. A Martin acoustic bass guitar, which has a round tone, is also included. With the acoustic and electric basses, you can mix miked samples with direct pickup samples — phase-locked, of course.

The electric bass category is bigger. Sounds you didn’t get in the original Trilogy set (which Trilian includes) include a Bissonette Studio Bass, Chapman Stick, Clean Fender, Hardcore Rock, Retro ’60s, and Rock PBass. Each of these has a number of presets for articulations: staccato, slides, muted, harmonics, and so on. Bass slaps and pulls are part of the deal, and are playable from the keyboard. Even legato trills are supported. Up to eight articulations can be loaded at once in Live Mode (see below). Within the basic preset, velocities of 127 trigger short, sampled slides up to the note, adding to the playability.

Release noise doesn’t require a separate layer of the patch, which is good, and you can adjust its loudness with a slider. You can mix and match, tacking release samples from one bass onto another. The release noise volume depends on the length of the note, so long notes that have faded out don’t have an ugly pop when you lift off the key. That kind of detail makes a big difference.

Trilian is hardly the only source of greatsounding synth bass, but what’s unique about it is the library of sampled waveforms from analog gear. The instrument list includes the ARP 2600 and Odyssey, Cwejman, Dave Smith Mopho and Tetra, Korg MS-20, Metasonix Assblaster (a tubebased box that defies description), four different Moogs, Novation BassStation, Oberheim SEM, Oxford OSCar, PPG Wave, three different Sequential Circuits synths, six Rolands (including the SH-101 and TB-303), and a few others.

Generally, these synths were sampled with the filter wide open, so you can use Trilian’s great-sounding filters and envelopes to sculpt your sound. There’s no reason to use the waveforms just for bass: Trilian is just as capable of doing warm pads and screaming leads. Because Trilian plays samples rather than generating analog- type waveforms via modeling, however, its lead synth tones aren’t as creamysmooth in the high register as those in virtual instruments such as Omnisphere (reviewed Dec. ’08). But hey, this is primarily a bass — and anyway, lead tones with an edge are good sometimes.


Trilian’s dual voice layers will be familiar if you use Omnisphere. In each layer, you get six LFOs, four multisegment envelopes, two multimode filters with serial or parallel routing, FM for roughing up the tone, and threevoice detune/panning for fatness. The 19 filter modes include not only the expected types but a couple of metallic resonators. A modulation matrix with 24 routings gives you plenty of ways to massage the tone.

The effects rack includes more than 30 modules: compressors, EQs, delays, distortion, an amp/speaker model, three reverbs, and more. Each of the two sound layers has its own rack of up to four effects, four more are available in the preset’s common rack, and Trilian’s mixer panel has four aux send racks and a master rack.


Eight bass slots might seem like overkill, but in Live Mode, Trilian lets you play up to eight articulations (one per slot) on the fly, using bottom notes on a keyboard for switching. With a little practice, I could play realistic electric bass parts with slides and pops. For adding them after the fact, you can easily insert the keyswitch notes into your sequencer’s piano roll.

Just as useful is Trilian’s main panel, which has 11 controls you can play via MIDI messages. They’re pre-assigned to do useful things in presets (e.g., mix direct and miked signals on a bass guitar, or do filter cutoff and resonance on a synth bass) but you can re-assign them to control as many sound parameters as you’d like — at once. The main limitation is that there’s no way to offset or limit the values: Assign a knob to five parameters, and it’ll move all of them from 0% to 100%.

I was especially impressed by the Chapman Stick preset. The real Stick is played by tapping, so hammer-ons and pull-offs for legato lines are a big part of the technique. The Trilian Stick plays these techniques even in the middle voice of a chord! Any pair of overlapping notes that are a half- or whole-step apart will be legato, while notes further apart will sound separately. I’ve never seen another synth that did this.

Trilian’s arpeggiator isn’t fancy, but does a few useful tricks. If you drag in a MIDI file from Stylus RMX, the arpeggiator will lock to the RMX groove. You can program up to 32 steps, which can be notes or rests, and can be linked for longer notes. The duration and velocity of each step can be programmed, but transposed steps and chords aren’t supported.


With Trilian, you really can fool listeners into thinking they’re hearing a fine bass player recorded in a pro studio. A knowledge of bass styles will also come in handy: Trilian is a musical instrument, and begs to be played by a skilled musician. The attention to detail in the sample library is scary, the voicing parameters are powerful, the user interface operates very smoothly, and the sound is amazing. Trilian isn’t just the best virtual bass on the market, it sets the gold standard for years to come. For these reasons, it clearly deserves our Key Buy award.

PROS Extremely realistic and playable acoustic and electric basses. Very musical management of articulations on the fly. Deep sound programming options. Searchable HTML manual lives on your hard drive.
CONS Requires lots of RAM.
INFO $299 list/approx. $279 street, $99 upgrade for Trilogy owners, spectrasonics.net


What is it? A soft synth with a massive 34GB library of sampled bass sounds.
What kinds of bass sounds? Acoustic upright, acoustic bass guitar, over 60 electric bass guitars, Chapman Stick, and hundreds of synth basses — mostly analog. Plug-in formats: Mac or PC; VST or AU.
Will it run standalone? No, it requires a host — either your DAW or a gig-oriented program like Apple MainStage.
Copy protection: Online challenge/response with serial number.