By Craig Anderton
With this plug-in/standalone synthesizer, Arturia does a 180-degree turn. Many of their recent products have been sophisticated, advanced emulations of classic (and occasionally esoteric) synthesizers, whereas Analog Factory is streamlined, simple, and easy to use. But note that I said "simple," not "simplistic": You get a lot of classic sounds packed into one instrument.
By "a lot," I mean over 2,000 presets selected from Arturia's Minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80V, ARP 2600 V, Prophet V and Prophet VS instruments. Think of it as "Arturia's greatest hits."
As to the specs, Analog Factory works with Windows 2K/XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or higher and Universal Binary. In standalone mode, it's compatible with ASIO, Direct Sound, and Core Audio; as a plug-in, it works with VST, Audio Units, and RTAS (Pro Tools 6 and 7). Copy protection uses the Syncrosoft dongle.
Analog Factory has two main sections; we'll cover the Preset Manager first, as this is where you browse and choose presets.
The left side has a browser that reminds me of Native Instruments' Kore, in that you choose various attributes, such as the Instrument, Type of sound, and Characteristics. For example, in the following screen, I've chosen Bass sounds with a Hard characteristic, without specifying that they come from a particular instrument; Analog Factory spit out a list of 27 presets. If I limit that to only Hard Bass sounds derived from their ARP 2600 synth, the list shrinks to 8 presets.
The preset manager helps provide some order to the 2,000 included presets; the ability to sort presets by Attributes is a key feature.
If you find a preset you particularly like, you can check it as a "favorite." Then, when you click the Favorites button in the upper left, you'll see a list of all the presets you checked. There's also a column listing the relative CPU consumption, from 1 (miserly) to 5 (sport utility vehicle), and you can even arrange the displayed presets based on CPU consumption (or instrument type, name, etc.). Cool. Finally, toward the right, there's a graphic that gives information about the preset.
The only other significant elements are a Reset button, which clears all the browser fields, and a User Presets button. Yes, you can create your own presets, but... let's investigate.
This contains the various editing controls, as well as a "virtual keyboard" for playing notes if you don't want to reach over to your MIDI keyboard. Now, be aware that the editing is nowhere near as sophisticated as the instruments from which the patches are derived. Then again, the point is quick and easy operation, not detailed editing. Referring to the following screen shot, the controls are basic: Mod wheel and pitch bend, transpose buttons, level, filter cutoff, filter resonance, LFO rate, LFO amount, chorus/FX mix, delay, and amplitude envelope ADSR parameters.
The virtual keyboard view sits below the Preset Manager. The virtual keyboard makes it easy to trigger sounds, but note that it can't do different velocities by clicking on different parts of the key.
But there are also three very cool aspects to the editing, namely...
You can export and import your group of edited presets, and when you export them, you have the opportunity to change the attributes. For example, if you increase the attack time to make a sound more languid, you can then tag it as "Ambient" or whatever. However, note that you cannot overwrite, edit, import, or export the factory presets—they're considered the foundation of Analog Factory. This makes sense; if you've chosen a patch as a "favorite," then you want to be able to return to it.
At first, I couldn't get Analog Factory working with Sonar, even though it worked fine with other programs I tried. Tech support was responsive, and suggested downloading the latest version of Syncrosoft's license control center, which authorizes the dongle. That solved the problem, although it didn't exactly increase my confidence in Syncrosoft. To be fair, though, I use quite a few Syncrosoft-protected programs and once you get them installed, the system works.
As you play with Analog Factory, you realize that there are indeed a lot of presets here – and they sound very clean. The browser aspect is helpful; no matter which attributes I chose, there was usually at least one patch out of the group that said “choose me” – and sometimes a little editing made it even more appropriate.
With synth sounds being so subjective, some people will find some sounds great, some useless, and so on. But that’s the beauty of having 2,000 sounds. Given the street price of around $200, even if you like only 20\% of the sounds, that’s 50 cents a patch – a pretty good deal, actually.
And I should also mention the Obligatory Eye Candy: You can change the “LCD” color to brown, dark blue, dark green, or (what I chose) light blue. It’s also possible to display just the Preset Manager, just the Keyboard View, or both – and enable or disable a neat little animation where the sections fold out of, or into, each other.
But Analog Factory doesn’t try to be all things to all people. If you’re an inveterate tweaker, Analog Factory is not as good a choice as any one of Arturia’s other soft synths (I’m particularly partial to the Moog Modular V and Prophet-V). For example, the Moog Modular can also serve as a signal processor, and its modular architecture lets you come up with just about any sound you can image.
Still, we all know that tweaking takes time, and there are a lot of people who just want to play, while leaving the programming to someone else. For this type of player, Analog Factory delivers the analog synth goods. Its main competition would be IK Multimedia’s Sonik Synth 2, which offers more patches, is more editable, has more effects – and costs more. However, it is a sample-based product, which gives the sounds a different character compared to the “all-analog-synthesis-emulation” attitude of Analog Factory, with its clean, clear oscillators that have no concern for sample stretching or velocity switching. So, I can’t say one is better or worse than the other, because they are complementary products that offer two different facets of the same concept.
Overall, if you don’t have the bucks to buy the collection of original Arturia instruments, or don’t want to spend time programming but want to take advantage of people who do, Analog Factory’s greatest hits approach gives you a lot of options in a single plug-in.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.