String Machines | Review from Failed Muso Blog

Hi everybody. You’ll find today another review for String Machines, from Failed Muso Blog, a practical blog for musical product reviews, tutorials and video.
Link to the review > here
- String Machines download : here
- String Machines DVD : here

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UVI String Machines review

Posted on May 22nd 2012

For those of us old enough to remember, and yes, that does include me, early synthesizers and their manufacturers were seemingly obsessed with their machines being able to accurately recreate the sounds made by other, more natural instruments. Check out the presets on any early synth and you would find voices such as Oboe, Trumpet or Violin. Of course, in those early days, the primitive, monophonic devices rarely ever sounded like those instruments. They were similar, but in the same way a Go-Kart drives like an F1 car.

But one particular range of instruments could be approximated more closely than others, and that was the string family. Although still not a faithful recreation of a bowed instrument, it not only sounded more like strings than their oboe sounded like an oboe, but it had an appealing quality all of its own, especially when played polyphonically. Its ethereal quality had an other-worldly nature to it and lent itself to the more futuristic compositions of the time. Ken Freeman, a British musician and engineer (and also composer of the theme’s to UK hit medical dramas, Casualty and Holby City) discovered the sound by taking a note and layering it with the same note but slightly detuned and modulated. And thus, the string machines were born.
Every manufacturer tried it. From the Americans to the Japanese, the French to the Italians, and they all had their own unique sounds and twist on the idea. Some were basic, some more elaborate. And musicians loved them, and then started using them prolifically, on occasion as they came, or being fed through some effects, most famously by Jean Michel Jarre who used Small Stone phasers on his Eminent 310 to create those hypnotic, evolving textures on Oxygene.
Tomita, Vangelis, Jarre and many more used string machines heavily in their work as well as many more contemporary artists. But as technology advanced at a rapid pace, more authentic string sounds were being created by the new polyphonic synthesizers of the late 70s and early 80s, and when we went digital, and the advent of sampling took hold, our synthesized string sounds were difficult to tell apart from proper orchestras. And so the one trick pony nature of the string machines consigned them to the dumpster of synth history.
But, as with all musical instruments, they were revived by bands looking for new sounds, and as resourceful as us musos are, we revisited the technology of old, finding many cheap gems with their interesting retro sounds, and we made them cool again. Of course, as soon as the cool factor hits, the prices rocket and what good examples remain, get snapped up at sky high prices. But fear not, for as the same technology advances are made in software instrumentation, some companies are gathering these past masters together and sampling them, wrapping them up in far more convenient and far less expensive virtual wrappers. The best dedicated string machine instrument out there to date, without question, is GForce Software’s Virtual String Machine. This instrument gathers together a vast array of string machines, faithfully and accurately sampling them in every possible mode or setting and then adding their own synthesis shaping and filtering and giving you phasers and ensemble modes as well as the ability to layer sounds.
With such a great string machine instrument, is there room for another? Well, it’s always good to have a choice and now we have one in the shape of UVI‘s new library, String Machines. Owning both, I will warn you now that comparisons will be made, but this is a review of the UVI library and will remain focused as such.
For this library, UVI have sampled the following string synths…

  • Korg Poly Ensemble PE2000
  • Eko Stradivarius
  • Siel Orchestra
  • Excelsior Strings Synthesizer K4
  • Logan String Melody
  • Crumar Performer
  • Elka Rhapsody
  • Solina String Ensemble
  • Yamaha SS30
  • ROLAND RS-505
  • ROLAND VP-330

    (I couldn’t find any information online about the Excelsior Strings Synthesizer K4)


    The first thing I noticed when opening the library was that rather than having 11 individual instruments (that’s the number of instruments UVI have sampled for this library), I was presented with just one. And it is a big one with 1284 keygroups! Once loaded, that’s it, there’s no more loading required as all 11 instruments are now in place for you to select. On first impressions, there are a lot of similarities visually with VSM. The wood effect trim, the black panels and gold lettering and the heavy use of red trim around buttons and switches. And the similarities don’t end there. The ability to layer two sounds is available on the UVI instrument too, and they both share virtually identical filter and amplitude settings [...] the UVI offering utilises UVI Workstation’s copious amount of built in FX and offers these up with direct controls over phaser, delay and reverb as well as controls over stereo colour, spread and tune and a useful pitch control section. UVI have also continued their trend of using the modwheel to control a number of user controlled effects, this time giving us vibrato, tremolo and filter controls that can be combined in any number of ways with varying degrees of rate and depth. All of these settings can be set to effect individual layers or both layers identically.

    Above all this sits the sample selection strip. Again, like VSM, you can select two layers, marked A & B. Each layer has its own octave selector, giving you three choices, as well as individual volume and pan controls. There are two drop down menus per layer. The first allows you to select the instrument, the second allows selection of the patch. Yet again, behind a simple and visually attractive interface, UVI tuck away a lot of depth. To the left of this strip is a switch that allows you to flick between the voice edit mode and the step programmer for the pattern function. Finally, above this is the preset selector and a master volume control.
    And let’s talk about that step programmer. Once again, UVI have utilised this built in finctionality of the UVI Workstation to lend a more modern twist on an old set of sounds. Using this function allows you to create arpeggiated patterns that not only rhythmically play notes back but also have an effect on the filtering. There are two step programmers that you can draw your patterns in and then select which layer or combination of layers you want the pattern to effect, both in terms of volume and filter. There are also controls for rise, glide and delay making this a very powerful and useful device. As per usual, you can set your own tempo or have it sync with your host DAW.

    So how does it sound, well, there is no doubt that it has the same UVI quality we have seen consistently in their libraries. When I first fired it up, I was concerned that there wasn’t actually that much in there, but scratch the surface and it all became apparent. There is plenty to get your teeth into and it more than delivers a really good selection of string machines sounds, all with their own unique character. At 1.27GB, it’s a much smaller download than some of the UVI libraries I’ve reviewed of late. But, it still has that same user interface that I keep banging on about. Easy on the eye, easy to learn and navigate, yet masking a great deal of depth and power. I’ve produced a review video so judge for yourself and do take a listen to the official audio and video demos that I have included down below this text.
    [...] I might also take this opportunity to mention a string synth that I once owned but never see in any of these collections, so if GForce & UVI are listening, how about a Godwin? I owned a Godwin Symphony 849, albeit in a very poor state of repair but it had a very lovely sound to it. Here it is, pictured below, just before I sold it on. The guy who bought it from me never managed to repair it and eventually sold it on to the great Gordon Reid. I hope that he managed to work his magic on it and I’d dearly love to play it again…

    All in all, UVI’s String Machines is another fine example of their work over in Paris. It’s elegant, deep and satisfying. Its pattern sequencer brings the sounds and the concepts slap bang into the 21st century and there is enough material contained within to fashion your own unique patches.
    Another cracking library from the UVI team and one worth adding to the collection.
    String Machines is out now and can be purchased as a download or a DVD from the following locations:
    Buy the DVD ► here | Download ► here
    Don’t forget that, as with all UVI libraries, you will need an iLok to use String Machines and you’ll need to download version 2.0.5 of the excellent, and free, UVI Workstation or own a copy of MachFive 3 from MOTU. Check out the String Machine User Guide here.
    As is now customary with my product reviews, I threw together a video overview too. I hope you enjoy it…

    Video Review

    YouTube Preview Image
    YouTube Preview Image

    Audio demo


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