Online Review: VST Orange Vocoder, Prosoniq





In other reviews on Prosoniq products in this site, I've already stated that the guy's at Prosoniq know what they are doing. Once again they prove that this theory is right. The Orange Vocoder is a fine peace of work, that broadens the possibilities of coloring your digital audio in your Mac to a new horizon.

The joy with this latest baby of Prosoniq already starts while opening the chique blue box , the same box Prosoniq uses for all products. A well designed package is almost as important as the product itself, and Prosoniq got that right. In the box a (install keyed) disk and a well written manual in english, german and french (about 40 pages each language). The start is OK, and so is the clear and crisp installation procedure, standard for all Prosoniq plugins. Once installed -in just about a few minutes- the vocoder party can begin.

By the way: the Orange Vocoder in fact consists of two plugins, that are installed into the PlugIns-folder of Cubase. Plugin nr. 1 is the Vocoder Carrier. It is used to acquire the carrier signal from a VST audio track at some point within the VST architecture. Plugin number two is the actual Orange Vocoder (the user interface and the processing part)

But first: what does this orange thing do? I quote an information file, that comes with the disk:

...
Basically, a (channel) vocoder consists of two banks of bandpass filters (bandpass filters are filters that leave only a small band in the spectrum unchanged and attenuate other frequencies, hence the name). These bandpass filters divide the spectrum of an input sound into many (in our case 24) narrow-band frequency components. Both inputs to the vocoder are processed that way, giving a coarse representation of the spectral shape of the input signals. The filter banks of both inputs are combined in a way that let the amplitude (volume) of the filters in the filter bank of the modulator input control the amplitude of the filters in the filter bank of the carrier. Imagine the process as if it were a 24-band Graphic Equalizer whose filter bands are controlled by the volume of the corresponding band in the modulator bank. The spectral shape of the modulator is practically "superimposed" on the spectral shape of the carrier signal. The result can be very different and also very beautiful, especially if you use a sustaining broad spectrum signal (such as strings) as carrier and a narrow-spectrum signal (such as speech) as modulator. The information of the modulator seems to be imposed on the carrier signal, this way you can make "your strings talk".
...

To be frank with you, it took me a while to master this plugin. At first, the strangest effects came out of the speakers in my studio, and after two hours of struggling I decided it was wise to quit -thus avoiding a banging headache-, and start all over again the next day. So I did. I carefully read the manual to get a "scientific" picture of the processes that produce the vocoders results. Having at least the idea that I understood how it works, I restarted experimenting, this time knobbing and dialing a bit less wild then I did the first night. And yes: pieces of the puzzle started to fit together quickly this time. So, with this plugin, you'd better read the manual first to get the best results the quickest.

I found that, when you carefully choose nifty combinations of the possible settings of the 8 voice synthesizer, add a bit reverb, and do your thing well with the graphic equalizer, indeed you can broaden the horizon of your sound possibilities in all directions. The vocoder plugin combines an 8-voice virtual analog synthesizer, a freeform EQ and a Filterbank Reverb all in one. Popup menus let you choose from various waveforms, filters and effects. Just like with paint, the audio-color combinations are endless. In this respect, the sky is the limit.

For example: heaving read about the "talking strings", I took a short part of a violin concerto I once recorded. I took the stereo mastertrack. I then "punched" this recording with some rhythmic peptalk through a microphone in real-time mode (Cubase 4.0/24) and recorded that. I managed indeed to let the strings talk: the minor violin part became a driving and swinging bunch of crazy mumbling violins. Very nice!

Within the synthesizer section, you can decide to modulate with just one tone (e.g. a C), or with a complete chord. By clicking the keys on the little keyboard, you "compose" the chord you want to use, and immediately the effect is processed using the chord you want. Choosing your chord right can add beautiful rich broadening. A recording in G minor for example can be enriched with a G minor chord on the little keyboard. You can more or less imagine what the effect will be, but when you actually hear it, you wont believe your ears. It gave me the goose skin feeling.

The plugin does not even draw that much of the processor power. On my 9500 PowerPC, the audio performance window of Cubase told me that -in real time mode- the Vocoder took about 30% of the processors power. That leaves room for some more heavy plugs in real time (depending on the demands of these other plugs of course). The sky is not the limit in this case, but you can get to an acceptable altitude, if you get what I mean. There are some tricks to even get better performance: turning off the USE SYNTH button in Orange Vocoder and using a VST track as carrier signal significantly improves performance. It may also be advantageous if you write the output of the Vocoder synthesizer section to a track and use it as carrier for the subsequent processing.

The Orange Vocoder can -within the Cubase environment- be used as a channel effect, as an insert effect (on Cubase 4.0 or higher), or as a master effect. There are several combinations for channeling the effect. It goes too far to describe them all here, but I can assure you these options give you more then enough flexibility, including vocoding in real time while recording.

The sound quality of this plugin is superb, as is the case with all plugins that come from the programming laboratory of Prosoniq at Karlsruhe, Germany. The same qualification is valid for the user interface. It works very intuitive, is very clear labeled, and responds immediately when you click or drag. E.g. creating a new handle in the EQ just requires a click at appr. the spot you want the handle to appear. When dragging a handle, the change in the effect is immediately heard. Very good. I've seen plugs where it took a second or so to monitor the changed effect...

Conclusion.

I cannot be but very enthusiastic on this new product of Prosoniq. For anyone, who wants vocoding in his digital Mac studio environment, this plug is an absolute must. On the scale of 1 to 10 I give this plug a firm 9, not only for the sound quality and the wide variety of effects, but also for the beautiful design and the overall presentation of the product.

Demo.

At the Prosoniq site you can find a demo version of Orange Vocoder, that runs stand-alone and gives a very good impression of what you can do with this plug. It is a pure demo application: it won't run under Cubase VST as a plugin. On the site you will find dealer and pricing information.

System requirements.

The Orange Vododer feels fine on a PowerMac with at least a 601 processor and 120 Mhz CPU, 24 Megabytes of RAM, 256K second level cache, and Mac OS version 7.5 or higher. Hard disks for audio must have an ASYNCHRONOUS driver installed. Of course you will need Cubase VST (version 3.02 or higher), or any other VST-compatible host application. Prosoniq recently announced version 2.0 of sonicworx Studio, which will be VST compatible.

Some specs.

Here is some more specs info of the Orange Vocoder, as given by Prosoniq:

• Realtime Vocoder effect usable in either the Master or Track Effect Racks, uses either any input source/VST audio track or the built in oscillator as carrier signal, and any VST audio track as modulator.
• Integrated 16 Oscillator/8-voice virtual analog synthesizer with 2 oscillators per voice featuring 10 basic wavefoms, and 7 sampled sounds, voice detune, pitch LFO/PitchMod/AmpMod, 4-pole Lowpass filter with cutoff and resonance, oscillator hard sync and ring modulator .
• Fully customizable Freeform EQ with max. 12 nodes, ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz and resolving from +30 to -30 dB FS.
• Input Channel flip to instantly exchange carrier and modulator signals without re-routing tracks.
• post-Vocoder Filterbank Reverb Effect with Mix, Decay and Density.
• 64bit internal processing using RISC-assembly coding for lightning fast realtime performance.


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

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11-09-99