Sound Review: Z3TA+ 2 Expansion Pack, “BigTone EDM”
By Anderton |
Sound Review: Z3TA+ 2 Expansion Pack, “BigTone EDM”
These EDM-specific sounds show a different side of the Z3TA+ 2 soft synth
by Craig Anderton
The Z3TA+ 2 virtual instrument from Cakewalk (which like Harmony Central is a Gibson Brand) has found a home over the years in EDM and other dance-oriented productions. Several companies have produced expansion packs for it, but BigTone EDM is the first one Cakewalk itself has released in several years.
The pack is by veteran sound designer Nico Herz, who may not be a household name but has done sound design for a variety of companies. BigTone EDM is, as you’ve probably figured out, intended for EDM—to the extent that Herz says many of the presets are optimized for the common trance/EDM tempo of 125bpm. However, I think that’s perhaps overly restrictive; they do slow down well, although if you push them too high (e.g., drum ‘n’ bass) the arpeggios and other rhythmic presets sound overly busy.
The 127 presets are arranged as eight banks: 7 Bass, 19 Keys, 11 Leads, 20 Pads, 11 Sequences, 6 Sound FX, 19 Textures, and 34 Arps. I like some banks more than others, so I’ll assign an admittedly subjective letter grade average for each bank.
Note that I create presets, so I’m very (some might say "unreasonbly") picky. This is both good and bad, because I have perhaps unrealistic expectations; but this also means I can recognize when someone has put a lot of effort into crafting a set of patches, which is the case here. It takes a tremendous amount of work to create something like this. Even the names serve a purpose, because there are hints in parenthesis about what controllers are most effective in modifying the sound, such as “pb+mw+at” (pitch bend, mod wheel, and aftertouch). It’s also worth noting these sounds are quite different from most Z3TA+ 2 presets; they present a different side of the instrument compared to most of what I’ve heard before.
THE BANKS THEMSELVES
- The Arps are ideal for those background driving forces behind music that occasionally take the spotlight. I expect to hear the “Catch the Smack” and “Hollow Bass Sequence” Arps on Netflix before too long in a movie suspense scene, with the tempo at 100 and perhaps filter resonance turned down. Overall the Arps are strong, and generally aggressive but not rude. They slide easily into existing productions; I suspect “Tech Stack” will show up in a bunch of dance tracks, and the “Sophisticated Pumper” patch is just waiting for me to write a song around it. I’d give this bank an A.
- The Bass bank is okay; there are a couple standouts that offer something different, and they benefit from the mod wheel and bend where indicated. But I didn’t find them as compelling as the other presets, so I’d give them a C+.
- I found the Keys outstanding—an easy A+. They’re sophisticated presets, and most have a “haven’t heard anything quite like that before” quality that makes them a welcome addition to any set of presets. If some of the “new age” synth sounds of the 80s became Harley-riding high-society biker chicks who wore lots of makeup but did so tastefully, they might sound something like this.
- The Leads are designed to punch through the music, not provide a demure background harmony. I’ll give them credit for not being stereotyped sounds, but I’m not sure how much I’d use them; they’re a B- for me.
- The Pads go the extra mile for versatility. I could hear them as taking center stage in chill, providing breathy atmospherics in trance, offering some relief in hard trance, and showing up all over the place in movies. If I had to describe them in a word, I’d use “cinematic.” This bank earns an A+.
- The Sequences are also outstanding (and not just because it’s reassuring to know someone else is fascinated with “one-finger” sequences). They’re idea-starters, song backbones, fine embellishments to something chugging along intensely at 125bpm...all told, although not every sequence will be everybody’s favorite, every sequence will be somebody’s favorite. They get a solid A.
- The Sound FX are...well, sound FX, which means if they’re in the right place at the right time, they’re great and otherwise, they’re not of much use. However I suspect several of BigTone’s FX will end up being in the right place at the right time for me, so I’ll go for a B+.
- The Textures are like sound effects that got a PhD, and then married pads. As such they’re more universally useful than sound FX per se, because they have a very musical component. If for no other reason than originality and their passionate vibe, another A+.
So there you have it. Interestingly, the banks that got the lowest grades have the fewest presets and the ones with the highest grades have the most number of presets so to me, this means much better value than sets that have a few great patches and the rest is filler. These sounds breathe new life into the Z3TA+ 2—and don’t believe that it’s only good for EDM at 125bpm. Good sounds are good sounds, regardless of the music that hosts them.
Available from the Cakewalk Store
Sound examples video