AAS ULTRA ANALOG VA-1 — AudioTechnology
This cost-effective, deceptively simple analogue synth emulator has some hidden depths.
Text: Derek Johnson
The folks at Applied Acoustics Solutions certainly know a thing or two about physical modelling. As if debuting back in 2000 with the powerful Tassman modular synth plug-in wasn’t enough, they followed up with the Lounge Lizard virtual electric piano simulator and modelled all things stringy with String Studio.
Now, they’ve gone back to their roots with Ultra Analog. Not surprisingly, the new plug-in models classic synth technology in a more streamlined – and cheaper – form than Tassman. It doesn’t try to be all things nor only one; anyone with experience of classic instruments will hear echoes and be able to create sounds that are typical of Moog, ARP and Sequential, among others, and move into new areas of sound design (Ultra Analog can also be up to 32-voice polyphonic).
WHAT IT IS
As strange as it may seem, there are several plug-in developers who don’t ensure their work is compatible with all major plug-in standards on both the Mac and PC – thankfully, AAS is no longer amongst them. RTAS, VSTi, AU and DXi are all spoken for here.
The graphic layout of Ultra Analog, while not revealing everything, clearly lays out the basic signal path that essentially consists of two oscillators, two filters, two LFOs, two amplifier ‘modules’ and four envelope generators. AAS goes the extra mile by adding a simple but funky arpeggiator and three effects processors.
The two oscillators – both of which can generate noise – are joined by a dedicated noise generator. Each is also capable of generating sawtooth, rectangle, and sine waveforms, with a hard sync option and PWM (when ‘rectangle’ is selected). A sub-oscillator helps to fill out the sound. Each meaty resonant multi-mode filter offers low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and band-reject (notch) operation, plus a formant setting for a more human touch. A set of preset ‘drive’ values adds a real edge even without overdriving the resonance (Q) and cut-off frequency controls. Keyboard tracking as well as LFO or filter EG (Envelope Generator) can be applied to both Q and frequency.
A dedicated ‘amplifier’ section offers simple mixing facilities – the basic signal chains implied by the two oscillators can be fully panned, for example – and access to an amp EG for contouring.
Both filter and amp EGs are identical: a standard ADSR shape enhanced by some cleverness from AAS. The result is more sophisticated than you might expect. The LFOs also look simple at first but have interesting options care of delay and phase controls.
The LFOs are, of course, sync’able to Midi clock as are the brilliant arpeggiator, the delay-based effects and, surprisingly, the modulation effects. The third effect processor – reverb – is serviceable, if a bit crunchy…
Back to the arpeggiator: a 16-step user-definable pattern is joined by control over range, direction and so on. It works well without the overload of options offered by some workstation synth ‘arpeggiators’.
NO END IN SIGHT
Ultra Analog’s real patch creation interest comes from the way its signal flow can be subverted. There are routing options that let both oscillators be processed by either or both filters, and to either slave the filters or route one to the other – doesn’t sound like much but it really beefs up the sonic potential.
Midi control is taken for granted these days, and AAS has made sure it’s easy to implement – a simple ‘click and learn’ system is augmented by hands-on tweaking of assignments if required. Collections of Midi control to parameter assignments can be saved as easily as patches.
Ultra Analog has quickly become one of my favourite plug-ins – it might be an easy-to-program budget plug, but it’s no lightweight. And the system load is such that running multiple copies isn’t a huge problem for the average computer.
Any field of electronic music will find room for a synth capable of this wide range of hard, fat, tinkly, lush or rich timbres.