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Steinberg and Wizoo think you would The use of software instruments is almost ubiquitous in music production today, it’s easy to forget that less than five years have passed since Steinberg released the first versions of Cubase with support for VST Instruments. While the idea of a computer program that generated sound was nothing new, VST Instruments represented the first time such a program could be integrated so tightly within a sequencing environment, using the same VST plug-in technology that was already popular for software effects. At the time, Steinberg supplied Cubase with the Neon synthesizer, a simple subtractive synth that didn’t sound so great, and used most of the processing of my humble G3 for a few notes, but was still exciting because of the technology and working method it promised!
steinberg hypersonic 3
Steinberg and Wizoo think you would The use of software instruments is almost ubiquitous in music production today, it’s easy to forget that less than five years have passed since Steinberg released the first versions of Cubase with support for VST Instruments.
While the idea of a computer program that generated sound was nothing new, VST Instruments represented the first time such a program could be integrated so tightly within a sequencing environment, using the same VST plug-in technology that was already popular for software effects. At the time, Steinberg supplied Cubase with the Neon synthesizer, a simple subtractive synth that didn’t sound so great, and used most of the processing of my humble G3 for a few notes, but was still exciting because of the technology and working method it promised!
Neon was soon followed by Steinberg’s own LM4 sample-based drum module, then other developers started developing VST Instruments and technology to incorporate software instruments into their products, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Most software instruments usually dedicate themselves to offering one particular method of creating sound, so you might have a synth, a drum player, a sampler, and so on, all running as separate VST Instruments. This leads to a situation where you need to have a handful of different instruments loaded in order to put some ideas into your sequencer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but this practice forces you to create a set of templates that preload certain instruments when you need to start writing.
While there are obviously dedicated instruments synths, drum machines, and so on in the world of hardware instruments, there’s also a breed of device known as the workstation, which bundles samples, synthesis and effects into one easy-to-use and immediate system. So much so, in fact, that I’m willing to guess that 90 percent of the people reading this article will own or have owned one of the aforementioned devices.
While the software market is flooded with subtractive synths and samplers, there have been relatively few attempts at the software workstation or ‘sound module’. However, nobody has really come close the immediacy of using an instrument like a Korg Triton, and this is where Steinberg and their collaborators Wizoo — the design team is the same one responsible for Virtual Guitarist and Xphraze — hope to score with their latest collaboration, Hypersonic.
Each instance of Hypersonic is part multitimbral with a maximum of voices 64 voices for each part , and you can have up to 32 individual outputs, which are assigned through 16 output banks. These output banks can be configured as either stereo, mono, or quad, although the latter quad four channels on one fader output is only available to Cubase SX v2 and Nuendo v2 users — in all other hosts, a Quad channel will be displayed on the mixer as four mono channels.
In terms of the sound library, Hypersonic is supplied with a preset patch library that cover a huge range of instrument types. And although Hypersonic does play back sample-based material, this is just one element of a patch’s sound, as Hypersonic also contains a virtual-analogue synth engine featuring two oscillators with multiple waveforms, pulse-width modulation and sync capabilities , a three-operator FM engine one carrier and two modulators in parallel , and a wavetable synth engine.
And, of course, no workstation would be complete without a healthy selection of effects: Hypersonic allows up to 64 effects to be used simultaneously, four for each individual Part. As you’ll come to realise, Hypersonic is incredibly modest when it comes to using your computer’s resources and, as such, Steinberg advise Windows users to have at least a MHz Pentium III- or Athlon-based machine although a 1GHz processor is recommended , and Mac users to have at least a MHz G3 or, preferably, a G4.
If you’re thinking that these requirements seem a little low when compared to similar products, take a look at the ‘First Compressions’ box later in this article for more information, as this situation is not all it seems. Hypersonic is the first VST Instrument from Steinberg that requires a hardware copy-protection device often affectionately referred to as a dongle to be attached to your USB port in order to run. Cubase and Nuendo users will already be familiar with the type of dongle that’s supplied with Hypersonic, and the good news is that it’s possible to transfer the licence from a Hypersonic dongle to your Cubase or Nuendo dongle, saving you from having to have two dongles plugged into your computer.
The bad news is that I’ve heard of some users having problems with the drivers required for Hypersonic’s copy protection, where you might need to reinstall your sequencer or contact Steinberg for a new code when there’s an error transferring licences.
However, I didn’t personally experience any copy-protection issues during my time with Hypersonic, so I have no complaints. Flying Hypersonic Hypersonic’s main interface consists of a single window that’s split into three basic sections. At the top on the left, there’s the Part area and level strip that together show a list of the loaded instruments with basic level controls. To the right is the Display area.
Here, you can select from a series of pages where you choose sounds and configure patches and Hypersonic’s system settings. And, along the bottom, you’ll find the Performance sections, which offer an on-screen keyboard, information about the currently loaded patch, and performance controls. The list of patches in Hypersonic is shown in the default Load page selected in the Display area as a tree-view-styled list where the patches are organised into folders based on the general family of sounds to which they belong, such as acoustic pianos, drums, and so on.
Loading a patch is simple: One thing I noticed here is that, initially, it’s easy to double-click a patch while forgetting to select a different Slot, losing whatever instrument was previously loaded into that slot in the process. A quick ‘load last instrument’ key would have been neat, but this is a minor quibble.
Each Slot in the Part list has a corresponding Mute, Link and Level control, and the first and last of these are fairly self-explanatory. The Link control allows you to ‘link’ slots together so that MIDI input from one channel can trigger multiple slots at the same time. For example, if you load a piano patch into the first slot and a string patch into the second, you can enable Link mode on the second slot so it also responds to data sent on the first MIDI channel — the result would be piano and strings playing together at the same time.
This is a great way to layer sounds, and you can layer anywhere between two and all 16 slots to create fairly vast sonic creations. The only caveat is that you can only Link a Slot to the Slot or group of linked Slots above, which means Slot 2 can be linked to Slot 1, but Slot 3 can only be linked to Slot 1 if Slot 2 is already linked to Slot 1.
This is easier to experience rather than explain, and, in practice, it just means you have to plan ahead if you want to create specific layered sounds. It is however possible to have multiple linked groups of slots in a single Part list, so you could link Slot 2 to 1, and Slot 4 to 3, for example. Once you start getting into Link mode, you’ll be able to get more out of this feature by exploring Hypersonic’s MIDI settings page, which allows you to set key and velocity ranges for a Part, along with a semitone-transpose setting, and a tuning option in cents.
Using these settings in combination with Link mode allows you to create more interesting combinations by transposing or detuning layers against each other, or creating keyboard splits in terms of pitch and velocity.
The MIDI settings page also enables you to set the maximum number of voices for a Part between one and 64 , and there’s a parameter Lock so that the settings on this page aren’t reset when you load a new Patch into a ‘locked’ slot.
Getting back to the main interface, the Level control, as mentioned earlier, allows you to adjust the volume of a given Part, and also includes an indicator that highlights the current setting of a Level control.
However, by right-clicking on the Level label at the top of the level control strip, you can set the indicators to one of three other modes besides Fader Value: Velocity, Polyphony, and Audio Level.
These three modes turn the indicators into animated VU-style meters that illustrate either the velocities of incoming notes on a given Channel, the polyphony usage of a Part, based on the maximum number of voices set for that Part, or the audio output level of a Part.
These modes don’t offer any numerical values to make them indispensable, but they can still be quite helpful. What A Performance Hypersonic’s Setup page allows you to set which of the virtual outputs are active, and there’s also a handy indicator to inform you of how much memory is currently being used.
In keeping with the way Wizoo’s sample libraries and products such as Virtual Guitarist are organised, you can select between three different quality settings in Hypersonic’s Setup page. When you first load Hypersonic, it’s worth noting that the quality setting is actually set to the middle, Default, value — for the best quality you’ll need to select ‘XXL’, and for slightly less quality but better performance, you can select ‘Eco’.
In practice, I left Hypersonic set to ‘XXL’ since the programming seems to be so efficient that it didn’t make much difference on my computer. This was clearly a major design aim for the team behind Hypersonic, as programmer Paul Kellett explained. So that was my main focus, and a lot of effort went into making it efficient. A hundred-and-something voices shouldn’t be a problem, even on last year’s or the year before’s computers.
I tend to develop on slower machines deliberately, just so I can check it’s going to work for everyone. There’s no point a developer having dual-processor 2GHz machines and then saying ‘well, it works fine for me! As an example of Hypersonic’s efficiency, one Project using a fully loaded instance of Hypersonic set to ‘XXL’, playing back around 20 MIDI tracks, with 22 effects enabled, used between 30 and 40 percent of my 1.
And in terms of memory usage, the 16 loaded Patches for this instance of Hypersonic used up just One word comes to mind: Patching It Together If you’ve ever used a hardware workstation, you’ll know that it’s not always easy to find the patch you want, and this is one area where Hypersonic’s well-thought-out architecture becomes apparent.
The Load page features a search field where you can type in a keyword for the sound you’re looking for, and a Search Results folder at the bottom of the list is opened to present a list of suitable patches — type ‘piano’ to find the piano sounds, for example. Cubase SX and Nuendo v2 users will be accustomed to this method of finding patches already, since the Patch Selector already offers this functionality, and Hypersonic’s category folders also show up here as well.
However, the big advantage in searching for patches using Hypersonic’s interface is that the search facility doesn’t just take the patch names into account: For example, you could type in ‘nasty synth’ to find a suitably nasty synth sound, and right-clicking on the search field before entering any text reveals the base keywords in a pop-up menu that you can use in your search string.
This is a great example of how computer-based interfaces can really make an instrument better, and I think this is often an area where Wizoo score over their competition.
Spectrasonics’ Atmosphere might be a great-sounding instrument, for example, but how quick is it to navigate through the list of available patches? Another tremendous bonus with Hypersonic is that the Patches load really, really quickly. So quickly, in fact, that most of the time you wouldn’t even realise there was any delay between selecting and being able to play a Patch — just like the good ‘ol days, some might say!
But seriously, with so many Patches on offer, coupled with the easy navigation system, you can select different sounds and try out new ideas really quickly. This is especially beneficial to Cubase and Nuendo users who might want to keep the Program Change pop-up menu open and use the cursor keys to select different Patches during the playback of a Project.
Some of the patches in Hypersonic’s list are preceded by a pair of wavy lines, indicating that they’re layered patches containing more than one particular sound, such as to use a familiar example , piano and strings. While you could use the Link mode, as described in the last section, to construct such layered sounds, the disadvantage with this approach is that you end up using two or more slots.
Layered patches, by contrast, contain multiple sounds that can be used within a single slot. And, unlike on a hardware workstation, because a Hypersonic patch can contain a large number of elements, and each element can generate up to 64 notes at once, a layered piano and strings patch still offers the maximum polyphony of 64 notes.
Layering doesn’t cut down your maximum polyphony, in other words. However, you can’t create layered patches yourself — in fact, you can’t create any sounds in Hypersonic from scratch yourself, and even the options you are offered for sound-editing are relatively limited, though it is still possible.
For more on this, see the box above. First Compressions As sampling rates and bit depths increase, coupled with the size and meticulous detail of sample libraries such as the Vienna Symphonic Library, many people find comfort in the old ‘bigger is better’ adage when judging products, assuming that the size of the library is proportional to its quality.
While this can often be the case, judging Hypersonic’s MB collection of samples against, say, Sampletank’s 4. To find out more about this, I asked Hypersonic programmer Paul Kellett to explain how and why Hypersonic’s sample library was kept so lean. In order to keep the memory usage to a minimum, no sample data gets loaded more than once if it doesn’t need to be.
So you can load up various pianos, and if they use the same piano sample, it’s only in memory once. It was quite easy to figure out what it was doing, so I did something similar. It’s a tricky balancing act to use enough compression to drastically reduce the file size and memory requirements, while not losing enough data that it makes an audible difference.
And there’s another technical issue, too. The compression to do that is far more complicated than the decompression — it takes 10 times longer than real time to compress the data, just so it can play back with a really simple algorithm. Some of this information can be slightly humorous, such as the description for the ‘Transylvania Pipes’ patch: Great for those contemplating world domination.
Knob 1 selects mono mode. Natural loose tuning. While it’s a small detail, it’s a nice one. Another great feature designed to make playing with Hypersonic easy is the set of six Hyper Knobs, located just above the on-screen keyboard at the bottom of the window. Every patch contains six pre-programmed parameter controls that assign the six most significant sound-shaping parameters in a patch to the Hyper Knobs, providing the user with immediate access to the most important performance parameters in a patch without having to delve into the Edit page.
The Hyper Knobs are labelled appropriately on Hypersonic’s interface for the patch loaded in the currently selected Slot, and are easily adjusted by using the mouse. However, once you start using the Hyper Knobs, you’ll soon be wondering whether you can assign these six controls to MIDI controller numbers — and, of course, you can. By default, the Hyper Knobs are assigned to controllers 16 to 19 and 80 and 81 respectively, although you can change this to one of eight other choices by clicking on a knob’s label and choosing from the pop-up menu.
You can’t assign a controller number of your choice to a Hyper Knob, which may disappoint some users, but there is the option to make your selected controller number only control the Hyper Knob.
As the manual says, this Exclusive option could prove useful if you want to use the sustain pedal to toggle the rotary speaker in an organ patch rather than sustain notes. Editing The Patch Overview Edit page offers basic control over parameters including pitch-bend, glide and the settings for the arpeggiator.
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