AIR Instrument Expansion Pack Version 2
By Phil O'Keefe |
Seven high-quality virtual instruments in one powerful bundle
By Phil O'Keefe
When a company offers a software bundle, the value of it really comes down to how many of the bundled programs appeal to you; after all, if you're really only interested in one of the programs, buying it separately is usually the better deal. But once you're looking at purchasing two or more, it suddenly becomes much more cost effective in many cases to consider the bundle. Such will be the case for many people who are considering the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack. AIR is well-respected for their high-quality software, and version 2.0.2 of this bundle offers seven very cool virtual instruments. While not every one will appeal to every musician, there's enough great stuff here that most will find more than enough to make the bundle a very attractive option.
What You Need To Know
- The AIR Instrument Expansion Pack features a total of seven virtual instruments that are useful in a wide range of musical styles. Multiple synthesis methods are represented, including modeled tube analog, additive synthesis, wavetable synthesis, and sampling.
- You'll need Internet access to authorize and download your software, and the process is relatively pain-free, although a "fast pipe" certainly helps. Once you have it all installed, there is over 70 GB of samples, loops and effects and over 2,000 patches and presets for you to use as-is, or that you can use as starting points that you adjust to create your own sounds.
- All of the plugins in the bundle are also available individually, but with prices ranging from $99.99 for Velvet to $149.99 each for the others, if you want to get two or more, it makes much more sense to purchase the bundle and get all seven. Upgrade pricing discounts are available for owners of previous versions of the Instrument Expansion Pack, as well as any of the individual plugins.
- Each of the plug-ins is available in AU, VST and AAS formats, so you can use this bundle with the vast majority of DAW software programs.
- AIR Instrument Expansion Pack is compatible with Mac (OSX 10.8 and 10.9 ) and PC (Windows 8 Professional or Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate edition with Service Pack 1), and requires a minimum of 4GB of RAM, with 8GB recommended. 70GB of hard drive space is required for the download and installation.
- Hybrid 3.0 is AIR's flagship synth, and a real powerhouse at that. It is the only instrument of the bundle that is at version 3. Hybrid 3 is a virtual subtractive analog and wavetable synth with onboard 16-step sequencers and extensive digital control capabilities. There are three oscillators and a sub-oscillator per part. The oscillators have all the classic analog waveforms that you'd expect and some you might not, such as PWM and Square Cross Modulation, as well as 100 wavetables. There are two multimode filters, including your choice of DCF and VCF models for both. The filters have a saturation mode, including five new types of saturation for giving you even more ways to crunch up your sounds. With four LFOs and envelope editors per part, you have plenty of modulation options too, as well as a complete selection of effects to take your sounds even further. Sounds like a lot? Well it is, but get this - Hybrid 3 is actually two 3-oscillator synths in one, and two parts can play simultaneously as splits or layers, so you can really create some massive sounds with it. Hybrid 3 offers up a huge library of over 1,200 presets, 200 of which are completely new, and the remainder of which have been refreshed since the previous version. Leads, pads, arpeggios, polysynths, chunky basses and buzzy brass - all that and much more is amply represented.
- Loom is a modular additive synthesizer. Additive synthesis has been relatively under-utilized by many hardware synth manufacturers, and has been largely unappreciated by many musicians, but it is capable of creating some very cool pad and atmospheric sounds by combining simple waveforms to create more complex timbres. Loom, which is still at version 1, offers a selection of 30 different editable modules, including Spectral Distortion, Octaver, Moving Filter, Lowpass, Spectral Modulation, and Noise. You can combine up to ten at a time per patch, and very complex additive synthesis patches can be created, with up to 512 harmonic partials per patch. Loom has some rather impressive modulation capabilities, with three LFOs that can be tempo-synched, as well as a very cool Morph Pad that lets you assign up to four variations of your sound to the four corners of the pad and then morph between them, either manually and in real-time, or tempo locked and under sequencer control. While not quite as extensive as the effects included with some of the other plugins in the bundle, you still get overdrive, phaser, reverb and chorus effects to add even more variation and motion to your sounds, as well as over 350 presets. This is a powerful and fun synth, and will open up the possibilities and potential of additive synthesis to a lot of musicians.
- Vacuum Pro is a polyphonic analog tube synthesizer. This instrument is also still version 1. This is a synth with attitude. The nasty, gritty, and dirty looking front panel graphics are a good match to the basic sound of this synth. As with Hybrid 3, patches are made up of two parts that can be stacked and layered, or split to different keyboard zones. Each has two virtual vacuum tube oscillators. A "drift" control allows you to detune just like VCOs in hardware synths do over time, and a built-in doubling effect allows for even thicker textures, and a clever Smart Sound Ramdomizer allows you to randomize only the parameters you want, on one or both parts. The two filters also model vacuum tubes, and have lowpass, high pass and band pass modes. You also get four envelope generators and matrix style modulation. The LFO can be tempo-synched. Of course you also get an onboard arpeggiator, as well as some effects, including delay, chorus and phaser, and plenty of presets (over 350) to get you started.
- Structure is a multi-timbral, multi-channel sampler (surround sound up to 7.1 is supported) and sample editor with a 128 level multi-timbral sound engine that supports up to 8-channel interleaved audio at all common sample rates and bit depths up to 24 bit / 192 kHz. It is now up to version 2.0.2. Structure comes with a massive 37GB library that includes multi-sampled drums (electronic and acoustic), orchestral strings, various hand and pitched percussion instruments, lots of keyboards (including a cool high-definition acoustic grand piano), guitars, basses and gobs more. Not only can it load its own sounds, but also unencrypted libraries from other samplers, including Apple Logic's EXS24, NI's Kontakt, and Avid's SampleCell. It also has a built-in REX file player, and onboard multi-effects, with 20 different effects types.
- Strike is a virtual drum instrument with a rather cool interface that allows for very easy interaction and that provides very musical responsiveness. While it can be used as a large sample library drum module-style sound source with the actual MIDI sequencing being done via your DAW (and you can also use your favorite AIFF and WAV file samples with it, as well as export MIDI and audio), it also comes with a large selection of preset patterns, including intros, verses, choruses, bridges and fills in a wide variety of styles and genres, and you can sequence and arrange them into complex songs. An onboard mixer allows you to position, process and mix your various drum sounds, while the included effects (including bit crusher, EQ, limiter, ring modulator, delay, reverb - everything you need) allow you to subtly enhance or outright destroy the sounds - and that's a very good thing. But probably the most impressive thing about Strike is the way you can control intensity, complexity and dynamics; push the control up and the same basic pattern becomes more complex, while sliding it down makes the pattern more stripped down and basic. It's brilliant, and a more musical approach to interacting with the software than having to go back and manually reprogram to get what you're after.
- Velvet is a vintage electric piano instrument that uses a proprietary combination of modeling and sampling techniques to generate some incredibly interactive and wonderfully musical electric piano sounds. I was already familiar with v1 of this amazingly realistic sounding EP emulation, but version 2.0.2 has kicked things up even further. A new Hohner Pianet-T joins the MkI, MkII & Suitcase Rhodes and Wurlitzer 200A of earlier versions, and it sounds just as terrific. Close your eyes and the emulation of those classic vintage electric pianos that Velvet offers up is uncanny. Those who want to nail the classic EP sounds heard on their favorite records will appreciate Vintage Mode, which adjusts the timbre's settings intelligently and changes the character of Velvet to match the instruments that were used on those classic recordings. Velvet is also outfitted with all the tools you need to get a fully polished electric piano sound, including a tube preamp, compression, 3-band EQ, reverb (spring, ambience and room), tremolo and autopan, phaser, wah, chorus, flange, and delay effects. The tremolo is modeled on whatever was offered on the original electric piano, and as with all the effects, it sounds quite good. Of course, if you don't want to do your own presets, not to worry - AIR has included loads of presets with Velvet, and you're bound to find several that you'll love. In terms of sound and playability, Velvet alone is worth nearly what they are asking for this whole bundle. Yeah, it's really that good!
- Transfuser 2 is a "melodic and rhythmic groove-creation instrument" that allows you to slice up your loops and sounds and remix them in creative ways. It's a powerful tool, especially for groove and loop oriented music. You can trigger, time stretch, change the pitch and sequence of notes and phrases, and slice and dice your audio in real time. MIDI control allows you to do all that and more, as well as remix your music on the fly from your controller or keyboard in a live performance environment, or you can use Transfuser 2's powerful MARIO (musically advanced random intelligence operations) tool to generate melodies and chords based on its analysis of your tracks to help flesh out your parts when composing or working in the studio. Transfuser comes with over 4.5GB of loops, phrases and samples of beats, instruments, basses and synths, and you can also drag and drop ACID, REX, AppleLoops, AIFF and WAV files directly into the program. Like the other instruments in the bundle, Transfuser includes a great selection of effects too.
- Users of older versions of Pro Tools (version 9 or earlier) would need to upgrade to version 10 or later in order to be able to use the Instrument Expansion Pack, since it supports the new AAX plug-in format, but it does not fully support the discontinued RTAS plug-in format. You might be able to use a VST to RTAS wrapper, but since I no longer run the older versions of Pro Tools, I was unable to test that as part of the review.
- I really do appreciate the addition of the Hohner Pianet-T to the lineup, but there are still more classic EP models out there, and I'd love to see AIR expand Velvet's selection even further.
- Using AIR AU plugins in Ableton Live is not supported. If you use Live, you'll need to use the VST versions of the plugins.
- Loom and Vacuum Pro are 64 bit only; the other plugins are available as 32 bit and 64 bit plugins. That means if you're using a 32 bit host, you may not be able to use Vacuum Pro or Loom, although Loom and Vacuum Pro, unlike the other plugins in this bundle, do support the RTAS format, so users of Pro Tools 10 can use them as a RTAS plugin if desired.
The outstanding quality of the instruments included in this bundle make it a must-have for composers, keyboardists and DAW-jockeys alike. Simply put, these instruments sound fantastic, and their user interfaces are impressively well thought out. Some people are bound to need some of these plugin instruments more than others and will no doubt have their favorites among the bundle, but every single one is totally useable and they all sound excellent. AIR also includes all the effects that you need to give you fully finished and "produced" sounding tracks, and a ton of presets, patterns, samples, loops and content to inspire you and get you going quickly - all that for around $300? That's a great deal! The AIR Instrument Expansion Pack v2.0.2 is a smart buy and a great value, and a toolbox you'll find yourself returning to over and over on project after project.
AIR Music Technology's Instrument Expansion Pack product web page ($299.00 MSRP)
$29.99 Upgrade from AIR Instrument Expansion Pack 2.0 to AIR Instrument Expansion Pack 2.02 for Mac and PC
$199.99 Upgrade from Velvet 2.0 to the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack 2.02 for Mac and PC
$129.99 Upgrade from Loom to the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack 2.02 for Mac and PC
$129.99 Upgrade from Vacuum Pro to the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack 2.02 for Mac and PC
$129.99 Upgrade the Pro Tools Expansion Pack v1 or (1) 2.0 instrument to the full 2.02 pack for Mac and PC
Individual Instrument Pricing:
Hybrid 3 $149.99
Strike 2.0.2 $149.99
Structure 2.0.2 $149.99
Transfuser 2.0.2 $149.99
Vacuum Pro $149.99
Velvet 2.02 $99.99
Vacuum Pro Overview: