Online Review: Magenta, by Prosoniq.



Please note: Magenta is available for OS X since 12-02-2003.



A new Prosoniq invention.

Prosoniq, the German developer of professional audio production software, recently came up with a new product, that is not only new as it is, but also completely unique. It is the very first time that a software developer "translates" very demanding and complex hardware processor stuff to the digital environment. Hardware stuff, that will cost you a fortune to install in your studio, is now availbale hard from your local hard disk, at a fraction of the investment you would need for the "real thing". To make this possible, Prosoniq developed the brand new MSR technology. I will explain to you later what that means. First I'll explain to you what Magenta is and does.

What is Magenta?

I could try to describe to you what Magenta is in my own words. But: the web site of Prosoniq gives us the following very clear product description. So why re-invent the wheel ;-):

"Magenta is an audio effects plug in for Cubase VST and compatible applications that uses any VST track or the live input as basic waveform that can be tweaked using the incredible power of real time resynthesis. Resynthesis is the most versatile and powerful synthesis technology available today. This means that only with Magenta you are free to truly design your own sounds without the limitations of traditional sound synthesis techniques."

The text continues:

"With Magenta you can play and control multi-voiced musically monophonic and polyphonic instruments directly from any MIDI keyboard in real time while adding a wealth of spectral effects that are fully automatable and can be dynamically controlled over. Use Magenta to produce vocal doubling, to create additional voices or melodic choruses from single vocal lines. Use Magenta to tweak any sound and to create alien atmospheres, clusters or sound textures that have nothing in common with the original sound. Prosoniq's proprietary Multikernel Spectrum Resynthesis Engine (MSRE) reproduces any sound by resynthesizing it in real time, giving you utmost control over all aspects of the recorded instrument or music track."

Normally, I do not copy so much text from a suppliers web site. I tend to choose my own text and typing. But in this case I thought it was wise you give you this text, so that you really understand what you are dealing with when you should buy Magenta. I'll give you some more of Prosoniq's very good and understandable explanation text later in this review.

Somewhat in between.

Magenta is designed to be used as a Master or track insert effect. It should not be used as regular track bus effect, as it might produce unexpected results if it is used as such. Magenta is not a VST instrument. Therefore, you will not see it in the VST instrument rack of the hosting application like Cubase or Logic. The problem with VST instruments is that they do not get an input signal from the VST audio tracks, and therefore you would not be able to use Magenta at all.

So: Magenta is not a VST instrument. How then use it? In fact, you will need two tracks in your VST application to bring Magenta to life. The first one is an audio track where the source for Magenta is either stored (digital audio) or is recorded to (live input). The second track is the midi track, where you put the midi info that will trigger Magenta. Which can be a melody, or midi modifiers, or both. I must confess is was a bit of a puzzle to bring Magenta to life this way, but after some reading in the PDF manual and trying, we managed to get some beautiful processed voices, combined with the built in reverb. Which is of good quality, like we are used to from Prosoniq. So: Magenta is not a VST instrument, and not a VST effect insert. It is something in between, so to speak.

Synthesizer without built-in sound.

Basically, Magenta is a software synthesizer without built-in sounds. Instead, it uses any sound that is fed to it as basic waveform. This is what you need the audio track for. The waveform is processed by all subsequent stages of the Magenta synthesizer unit. These include an LFO section, an envelope generator, pitch, panorama and volume controls and the Magenta filter section. You can see all parameter possibilities in the screen shot on top of this review.

All key parameters can be controlled through a set of MIDI controllers, such as velocity, modulation wheel, pitch bend, after touch and other. In addition, Magenta offers full support for automation, which allows you to automate all of its parameters through your host software effects automation capabilities. All this MIDI stuff: this is where you will need the second track (midi track).

Use.

So: what would you use Magenta for. Prosoniq gives us some examples, that speak for themselves:

  • Create vocal accompaniments by playing harmonies on your MIDI keyboard
  • Change the timbre of any sound
  • Create mouth tube and vocoder fx
  • Pitch shift musically monophonic and polyphonic sounds
  • Create yet unheard effects by tweaking the harmonic developments of sounds
  • Use any VST track as oscillator for an incredibly versatile synthesizer.

    The software comes with a set of presets to get you going.

    Learning curve.

    It took us quite some time to get this thing under control. And after several evenings testing around with Magenta, we have a feeling that we only saw a tip of the ice berg. Which may say something about the endless possibilities of this unique peace of software. I am most certain that -once a fine studio technician gets hold of this baby- the power of Magenta will be unleashed by its full volume. Before you get to this audio Valhalla, you will have to climb an interesting learning curve. But hey: every professional and good tool needs some time to master, right? I think it will be well worth the effort.

    Techniques.

    So, by now, we hopefully begin to understand that Magenta is an unique peace of software. In this part of the review, I steal some Prosoniq text again, from the Magenta manual this time.

    "Resynthesis is a very computationally challenging task. Tens of thousands of partial waves have to be derived, updated and recombined in each second of a sound to reproduce the input signal at high quality. Not only is this a difficult and tricky process to do in software, it also eats up processing power very quickly. Therefore, in the past resynthesis-based synthesizers have required specialized hardware to do their processing, and even with the tremendous increase in processing power of desktop computer systems over the last few years a truly useful and playable polyphonic resynthesizer is difficult to do in software.

    Prosoniq developed a novel approach to this problem by introducing a new concept called Multikernel Spectrum Resynthesis (MSR). MSR is different from the traditional resynthesis by not actually using the common sinusoid waves for its partial frequencies, but instead using more complex waveforms which are called "wavelets".

    Wavelets have emerged from the analysis of earthquakes in the 1990s and have quickly become a widespread mathematical tool for signal analysis and signal compression. They combine the advantage of a "spectral" representation of waveforms with low computational complexity and good time resolution. Prosoniq's MSR is the first Wavelet based synthesis technology used in a software synthesizer. This novel technology makes it possible to build a resynthesizer in software that can have as much as 40 voices polyphony on a 400 MHz G4-equipped computer."

    This said -and being true- we noticed that the appearance of just one Magenta under Cubase VST 5 did actually eat about one third of the processors capacity (measurable by the system load window of Cubase. This on our G4/500 512 MB test machine. It is a miracle that Prosoniq managed to create a tool that can do so much processing in only one third of the G4 processors capacity. But it leaves not too much room for additional stuff. If you really wanna go with Magenta, and stack some extra VST instruments as well, you will need one of the newer G4 machines with fast processors.

    The processor issue may sound negative, but is not meant that way. I will be happy to do some Magenta processing first, save that track when I'm satisfied with its sound, re-import the track and then go on with the more "regular VST stuff". The advantages of processing that Magenta brings us weigh much more than the disadvantage of it's heavy attack on processor power. At least, that's the way I feel. Maybe in a pure professional environment, where time is money all the time, this approach is not acceptable. But then again, in such an environment the urge to buy the newest and fastest Mac will be greater I presume, which eliminates the disadvantage again because of the faster processor. It's up to you if this extra investment is worth the advantage of having Magenta running in real time production.

    Specifications.

Prosoniq's web site gives us following specs:

  • Real time resynthesis for extensive sound processing
  • Use as software synthesizer with live audio input
  • Pitch shifting and versatile spectrum filtering capabilities
  • LFO control over all important parameters
  • 2D graphic control over filtering and spectral manipulations
  • All key parameters can be controlled over definable MIDI controllers
  • Works on any input signal in real time
  • Formant preservation during pitch shift
  • Over 10 spectral macro filters for all sound design situations
  • Directly playable over MIDI keyboard
  • Free pitch, pitch quantize and pitch lock capabilities to correct the input pitch or to create mouth tube or vocoder fx
  • Built-in reverb effect

    Rating.

    Magenta is not for the hobbyist, who thinks he will get good results after a couple of minutes. The combined use of audio + midi track gives you something to puzzle with the first time you try to bring Magenta to life. But once the light shines, you unveil a challenging box of pandora, that gives you audio resynthesis, that (until now) only was possible with dedicated and very expensive hardware. We at AudioMac follow the Prosoniq developers for several years now, and every time a new product appears they manage to surprise us over and over again. The technique behind Magenta is superb, and delivers great creative capabilities. We at AudioMac.Net rate Magenta a glowing
    9 out of 10. Maybe in the next version, Prosoniq could find a solution for the -for most users- rather complex setup to bring Magenta to life. A macro or the like would help a lot here. The standard file for Cubase, that comes with the program, is a nice help though to get a good example of how to configure. For both Cubase and Logic, the manual explains very clear how to fit Magenta in your production under both Cubase and Logic. It remains a bit of a puzzle though. For the rest: Prosoniq has proven again that this company is at the top of audio techniques. Very well done!

    Example.

    To give you an idea of the power of Magenta, we took a small production we recently did for a weblog. It's part of a Mongrel composition to which we added extra drums to make it danceble. The first half of the file is the Mongrel original. The second half is the same part, but now treated by Magenta. We on purpose did severe modification on the track, not with a good sounding product in mind, but mostly to give you an idea of the complexity and power of Magenta. All done in just one stroke, with just a few midi parameters. With some imagination, this could be a dance party in a huge dance hall with very bad acoustics (which in real life most of the time is the case, by the way ;-) and too few visitors. Put on the head phones, turn up the volume, and use your imagination. Get the message what Magenta can do...?

    Magenta_review.mp3 (696 KB).

    More detailed product info can be found at the web site of Prosoniq

All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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12-11-2002