OUTPUT ANALOG STRINGS VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT
The name Analog Strings sounds like it should be for purists, however, the sound it outputs is anything but.
Review: Preshan John
Everyone’s got strings samples, but I bet you don’t have anything like Output Analog Strings. It’s about the furthest deviation from natural orchestral strings sounds you can get while still managing to sound like strings.
Analog Strings is weird to describe. It’s a sample-based instrument for Native Instruments Kontakt, and a large one at that — around 39GB (compressed into a 20GB download). The samples consist of actual stringed instrument recordings along with synthesised strings. Each patch mashes both sound sources and provides a host of ways to further punish their purity with tools like distortion, arpeggiation, modulation, loopers, and effects. It’s quirky, and I love it.
FIND A PRESET
Reaching a desirable preset destination can be terribly hit-and-miss with instruments capable of an expansive range of tones. Thankfully Output’s reductive preset menu system is a pleasure to use. Pick the adjectives which best describe the sound you’re chasing and the relevant preset list narrows down on the right. Well done to Output for executing this extremely well, with enough sub-categories to be able to accurately zone into the preset ballpark, but not so many that the selection process becomes a chore in itself.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination preset, you’ve got a huge amount of tweakable parameters to further alter it. Visually, the most striking of these parameters are the four ‘macro’ sliders which affect the sound’s overall texture. Depending on the source patch these will be a choice of Pitch, Pulse, Dirt, Tone, Wet, Delay, Shape, Filter, Spread, Reverb, Motion, Vibrato, Talk, Attack, Noise, Rhythm, FX, Glide, and my personal favourite, More.
Each Analog Strings patch is made up of two sound sources, visible as sample waveforms underneath the macro sliders. You can toggle through a variety of options for either in the Source Menu, all of which sit in one of three categories — Orchestral, Synths, or Creative. These are further broken down by envelope type; One Shot, Pad, or Tape. Offset the sample’s start by sliding the playhead across the waveform. You can even reverse the sample or loop it.
Building on the base tone of two combined sounds, Analog Strings offers heaps of other processing and effects options accessible via the tabs at the top of the GUI labelled Edit, FX, Rhythm, and Arp. It’s laid out logically and is easy to navigate.
The Edit tab lets you dive into the sample’s envelope, pitch, flutter, and stereo position/spread. FX is broken into two sub-tabs; Layer FX to treat the two samples individually, and Global FX which affects the entire sound. Options include a filter, EQ, distortion, compressor, delay, chorus, phaser, and reverb. The Arp tab contains two arpeggiator engines, each capable of up to 16 reps and 32 steps. You can draw in custom patterns or choose from a bunch of presets including both chords and single notes.
Every patch is an adventure with Analog Strings. There’s even a preset called ‘Unusable but Funny’ that you really have to hear for yourself. Texturally there’s everything you can imagine: smooth, pretty pads that’ll make you feel nostalgic after one chord; spine-chilling Oriental plucked sounds; foreboding and bassy cello tones with loops sprinkled on top; tension-building looped staccato pitch glides; and painfully harsh ‘I’m-getting-violin-lessons’ sounds that make you angry for no reason. But the really fun part is when you take a preset and play around with it. Start out by shifting the four macro sliders around, reverse the second sample or loop just a portion of it. You can turn a pad into an arpeggiated stutter or add a stupid amount of reverb. Basically, it lets you break all the rules.
To be honest, I’ve barely had enough self control when messing with Analog Strings to make a sound I’d actually use in a song — everything about the instrument invites overkill and irresponsibility. Saying that, there’s nothing stopping you from using a thunderous double bass patch that resembles the footfalls of a dozen elephants in your band’s new demo recording. Notwithstanding, if you like making tame music, Analog Strings is perfectly capable of pulling off normal stuff too, just don’t expect a pristine orchestral recreation, and be willing to show restraint with all those knobs and buttons.
Analog Strings isn’t a utilitarian tool, but it isn’t trying to be. Rather than going to an instrument knowing what sound to expect, musicians using Analog Strings will find themselves inspired by sounds they’d never envisioned in the first place. Electronic music producers can find all the quirkiest synth and string arpeggios in a single interface. Film composers and game music writers will love this thing to bits. Coming from a guy who’s more into sample libraries that strive for unadulterated purity, I’ll still say Analog Strings is my latest favourite software instrument.