So in my search for more usable soft synths I picked up an Arturia Analog Laboratory 61 key controller on Feb 28, 2012. This is an intergrated controller and soft synth which solves a few typical problems for me. The normal soft synth experience for me involves having a sighted friend create presets in the synth rack view of Sonar 8.5 PE. The Cake Talking program does not have scripts for many soft synths. This means when I install and run the synth as a VST all I can do is insert it into a project and that’s it. The soft synths that come with Sonar have for the most part been scripted for. I can using keyboard commands; choose banks ,edit parameters, and automate soft synths. So this is where finding new soft synths to use becomes difficult, enter the Arturia Analog Laboratory.
Right out of the box the controller almost resembles an old school Moog synth with it’s faux wood sides. The build quality is excellent with a heavy duty metal chassis. The keys have a good synth action. The keys seem to get more slappy towards each end of the board making me feel like I might break it if I do too much drum programming. All of the knobs and sliders have a nice smooth tension when turned/ slid.
In terms of knowing what each control button is called I record using a Sony digital voice recorder from left to right. If they are part of a group I will count how many in the group and then record their names from top left to right. I can sometimes get the layout of the unit off of the manufacturers web site in a PDF manual. Although not every manual lists a detailed surface layout.
So I inserted the install disk and waited for my JAWS screen reader to prompt me. The install was quick and something I didn’t need sighted assistance for. The registration process was a little unclear but with a friends help I was able to figure it out. I couldn’t enter the code into the Arturia program so I had the same friend input it. The whole process only took a few minutes and the Arturia software instantly recognized all my sound devices. I had my friend choose the roland Octacapture as my default audio device. With any stand alone software my screen reader JAWS is not able to interact with it. Most of the controls / windows are mouse controlled. I can sometimes use each programs features off of the All Programs bar. Many times the menu is accessible there and I might get one aspect of the program to work. I plugged in the controller and the drivers worked instantly. I started using the Lab and the sounds were great. The parameter controls let me dial in a sound very easily. The drum pads started an awesome old school drum beat matched to the current sounds tempo. So I started going through the different sounds with the two knobs located directley below the screen. Each sound has so many variables you could just mess with it for hours. Knowing that this beast had 3500 sounds in it I wanted to sample them all. I found that if you change sounds too quickley there are loud pops and delays from the previous sound carrying over. I managed to crash the Lab in a minute of using it. I was going through each preset at a normal “lets hear this sound” speed. The Analog Lab closed itself and when I reopened it there was no sound. I restarted the Octacapture and still nothing. So I had my friend look into the sound devices part of the Analog Lab. The Octacapture for some reason was now unselected. For some reason we were unable to check the box and only a restart of my PC brought back the Octacapture. I’ve never had anything crash the Octacapture so I figured I was going too fast for Analog Lab. After closing Analog Lab I wanted to see if it would be more stable in Sonar. I added it as a VST and all went fine. I inserted the soft synth and great it works. I could hear the sound but not change the preset. I could modify the parameters with the rotary knobs but not the sliders. This might be a Sonar control surface issue with key mapping. The transport controls did not function either. So I saved and closed the project. I opened the Analog lab and went through and created a few presets of my own. I saved them right to the 10 user preset buttons. I then closed the Lab and went back and reopened Sonar. The presets changed now with each user button so one problem solved. I would have liked to been able to change the presets in Sonar but this was a viable work around. This worked until I changed through the presets too quickly. I was testing each sound on the recorded MIDI track I had made when Sonar froze. This caused my project to just sit there and then it crashed Sonar completeley. I’ve had VST’s that have run slow or just so slow they were unusable but never shut down my project. When I reopened my project Sonar was unable to use the Octacapture. I closed the project and turned off the Octacapture then reopened and still nothing. I had to restart my computer to get the Octacapture back. Out of all the soft synths I’ve had like Superior Drummer or Hypersonic I’ve never had any issue with the Octacapture. The Analog Lab soft synth did seem to be a bit CPU intensive. I noticed a definite lag when opening any project with the Lab in it. For a little background on my PC specs; a Dell Precision t-1500 Workstation, I7 2.9 ghz, 8 gigs DDR3 1300mhz ran, Windows 7 64, Cake Walk Sonar 8.5 PE 32 bit. i’ve had no trouble running projects with 90+ audio and 30+ MIDI/soft synths.
The Arturia has some amazing sounds which I think are what make it a great soft synth. The technicle problems take away from this awesomeness but not so much that you wouldn’t still love it. I figure with some updates to the software most of these problems can be remedied. The version of the software was something I couldn’t locate. I found updates on their site but no dates were given as to when they came out. This doesn’t mean I got an install disk that was up to date to be fair but I will “assume” that I did. I hope there are more of these types of products in the future. The idea of dedicated controllers for soft synths should be embraced by other manufacturers. Now I know this wasn’t a glowing review but if you can deal with some minor bugs this is an awesome synth package for a great price.
I will be reviewing the Cake Walk V studio 700 and Novation Ultra Nova soon. There are also some guitar gear reviews I will be writing as well. Write me if you have any questions on any gear I might have tried or hope to try.