Music Production, Software

Now You’re Playing With Power: Omnisphere Power Synth v1.5 (Review)

July 16, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Now You’re Playing With Power: Omnisphere Power Synth v1.5 (Review)on Twitter

Kunal mentioned in his review of LA Scoring Strings a few weeks back that strings are particularly challenging to recreate in a synthesized environment. Well, if you’re like me and prefer to use synthesized sounds, you’ve probably heard of Omnisphere, Spectrasonics’ flagship soft synth (or ‘Power Synth,’ as they refer to it).

While Dale reviewed the original release of Omnisphere a couple years ago, Spectrastonics recently launched version 1.5, offering more sounds and capabilities, so I thought I’d take a stab at this beast, and have even written two tracks using the software for your listening pleasure.

Hit the jump for our full review of Omnisphere v1.5!

First off, Omnisphere is huge. It’s so huge that it’s actually overwhelming, and the version 1.5 upgrade further complicates this matter by adding over 700 new patches, putting the current total at over 5,000. Fortunately the navigation system that we described in detail in our Trilian review (also a Spectrasonics product) is also featured in Omnisphere, allowing the user to search for sounds by every imaginable parameter from generalized instrument group down into specific instrument, complexity, and genre types. This allows you to find samples to be inspired by as well as allowing you to find something quickly if you have a particular sound in mind. And on the topic of more sounds and Trilian, users who register both Omnisphere and Trilian are given access to a special VIP Sound Library, further expanding upon already massive library. I guess this explains the new sorting category of “Recent User” so you can easily find the most recent patches you’ve been regularly using when browsing in the user category.

In terms of what you’ll be hearing, there’s everything here from pads and synths to different kinds of bass, belltones (my favorite!), and even percussion. Not every section is robust (the percussion section in particular in pretty bare compared to the others), but you’re going to be swimming in synths and pads among other categories. The quality of the instruments are top notch and should impress even in their preset states (which I typically use), although nearly every parameter can be tweaked and modified to your liking. Even more, many of the patches are actually blends of two separate samples, each of which can be independently adjusted, and you can even create your own combinations for the most unique sound. Some of the sounds in Omnisphere are also generated in real-time by the internal STEAM Engine, which shows off Spectrasonics’s unique digital synthesis.

Just as with Trilian, each patch is given a written description, suggesting ways to use the sample, or offering other comedic commentary for each patch. The pictures included are often appropriate to the particular instrument that the patch originates from, and are also sometimes comedic.

I could probably write an entire review about the belltone patches in this library as I’ve spent countless hours playing with Omnisphere and haven’t even checked out half of that particular category. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that there’s so much content here.

Other updates with version 1.5 include minor functionality fixes along with all new control mechanisms. First of all, there’s added support for the Omni TR iPad app that allows you to use the iPad as a touch-controlled input device, which we saw in action at NAMM this year. There’s also the new “Orb” circular sound manipulation interface. I had a lot of fun playing around with this feature, which is essentially a new controller mechanism that affects the depth of the modulation on a random set of parameters that Omnisphere chooses while you move the cursor around a series of concentric circles. I tried this with belltones and bass synths, moving the cursor more rapidly with the former and more slowly with the latter, giving each a neat little burst of individuality, which is great if you’re using presets like me. Your session can be saved and recalled later if you liked what you’ve created as well.

There’s also expanded synthesis capabilities (new zoom pages for Harmonia, Waveshaper, and Granular Synthesis) as well as a number of tweaks including added support for polyphonic aftertouch from MIDI devices, a “Clone Part” feature to aid in the use of multichannel MIDI controllers, a new user-assignable Legato Interval rule, and the ability to snap to semitone using modulation envelopes.

Now I wanted to give you the chance to hear what I was able to do with Omnisphere. Please note this disclaimer: I’m not a musician by trade, and am rather a hobbyist when it comes to composition, so you’ll have to forgive my poor mixing and musicianship and not blame Omnisphere in this regard. I did have a lot of fun with these tracks though, creating two distinctly different tracks that I’m together calling the Omniscent EP:

01 Inexplicable Extravasation
02 Blinding Height

I actually wrote “Blinding Height” first, which was actually responsible for me taking so long to write my impressions of Omnisphere. This heavier electronic sound is not generally my style, so I struggled with it a lot. I was really inspired by the Asian-influenced “High Priestess” patch, and had fun with the bass work during the chorus sections.

“Inexplicable Extravasation” was a lot easier for me to get out (a single 2-hour session) as it’s much more in my style and makes extensive use of—yes–a belltone patch called “Retro Mallet Reunion” which combines Optigan mallets and a transparent glock. It’s also responsible for the ethereal glassy sounds that are featured throughout. Even the limited percussion contained within Omnisphere was much more suited for this kind of darker ambient sound.

I had a blast with Omnisphere, and have only still just grazed the surface. I’m looking forward to digging even further into the library for inspiration, and while I think a ton of people out there have already discovered Omnisphere, aspiring musicians ought to take note if they haven’t already. It’s now widely available from Spectrasonics dealers for an MSRP of $499.99, which is reasonable given how large the library is.

Let us know what you think of Omnisphere, Spectrasonics, and of the Omniscent EP!

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