AIR Music Technology Xpand!2
By Phil O'Keefe |
Multitimbral virtual instrument plugin
Xpand is a softsynth that has been around in various forms for a while now. Originally created as a bundled plugin for Pro Tools 7 back in 2006 and later improved, expanded and renamed Xpand!2, it has proven to be a very popular plugin, but has had one serious limitation - it was only available to users of Pro Tools. If you had a preference for a different DAW application it was unavailable to you - until now. AIR Music Technology now offers this cool plugin in a variety of formats that can run on just about any modern 64 bit DAW application. So what is Xpand!2 all about? Let's take a look.
What You Need To Know
- Xpand!2 is a 64 bit virtual instrument software plugin that can run on Windows 7 and 8 or OS X 10.8 or later. 2GB of RAM is recommended, as is a Core i5 or faster CPU. Since it is a 64 bit application, it requires a true 64 bit DAW host. There is no stand-alone version; it runs only as a plugin.
- This version of Xpand!2 is only available as an AU or VST plugin; however, an AAX version still comes bundled with the AIR Creative Collection that is integrated with Pro Tools. While quite similar to the version that is included with Pro Tools 10 and 11, the VST/AU version offers some minor adjustments here and there as well as a new and improved arpeggiator.
- Copy protection uses an unlock code. No iLok is required. The download size is around 1.2GB, so downloading it is not too time-consuming. Xpand!2 takes about 1.69GB of hard disk space for installation, and the installation process was painless and went off smoothly on both my MacBook Pro and custom-built quad core i7 PC system.
- Xpand!2 has multiple sound generation engines, including subtractive synthesis, FM synthesis, virtual tonewheels, and sample playback, so a wide range of different sonic textures and characteristics are available.
- Xpand!2 has a really intuitive user interface that is very easy to learn and navigate.
- There are four stereo instrument parts per patch, and Xpand!2 is four-part multitimbral. This allows for complex stacking of parts to create a composite whole. Each part can have its own MIDI channel (or shared MIDI channels if you'd like), and each can be turned on and off individually, which is useful when auditioning sounds and adjusting the various parameters of each. You can also pan and set the levels for each part independently.
- Adjustable keyboard ranges for each part are also provided, which makes it easy to do zones and splits. You can also set the transposition and fine tuning separately for each part.
- Modulation control is included, with individual pitch bend wheel range and aftertouch parameters for each part. You can also tempo-sync the modulation if desired. Multiple modulation destinations are provided for you to select from too.
- Not only that, but you also get a very cool arpeggiator that can be set differently for each part too. In addition to the expected up, down, up/down and random arpeggiator modes, several other modes - and even patterns - are offered.
Xpand!2 has an impressive amount of arpeggiator patterns
- A large selection of different sound categories is offered, including (deep breath) soft pads, bright pads, huge pads, action pads, ambience and FX, polysynths, synth brass, percussive, simple arpeggios, multitrack arpeggios, soft leads, hard leads, acoustic piano, e-pianos and clavinet, organs, strings, vocals, brass and woodwinds, mallets, bells, guitars, ethnic, hits, synth basses, basses, drums, percussion, loops and multitimbral categories, and each category includes multiple presets. In all, there are over 2,500 presets included, but even with that many to select from, the way they're categorized makes locating what you need fast and easy.
- Each part offers up to 64 note polyphony. Alternatively, you can set parts to run in mono, and when doing so last, first, low or high note priority modes are available.
- Xpand!2 features two effects processors and over 50 different editable effects types. Each processor can be turned on or off individually, and full controls are offered so you can edit your delay time and other important effects parameters to get just the sound you're after. Two aux sends per part adjust the relative amount of each effect per part. The output of FX 1 can be routed into the input of FX 2 for "cascaded" or serial effects processing.
- Editing of the actual sounds is somewhat limited, but not totally impossible. Six smart knobs are provided at the top of the screen. The parameters change depending on the sound you have selected. There is also a set of six "Easy Edit" knobs that allow you to adjust the sound of the entire patch at once.
- There is no way to add third-party sounds or presets to Xpand!2, and it's limited to the included sound set. Fortunately it's pretty broad, and a wide selection of useful "bread and butter" sounds are included as well as plenty of more interesting, esoteric and unusual sounds for when that's what the music calls for.
- Deep editing of presets beyond that offered by the smart knobs is not available.
- Owners of older 32 bit VST / AU DAW host applications will be unable to run Xpand!2.
Pro Tools users have long known and enjoyed Xpand!2's power, speed, and ease of use, and now it's available to everyone, regardless of their preferred DAW platform. The price is quite reasonable too, and owners of AIR's excellent Instrument Expansion Pack V.2 can purchase Xpand!2 for even less.
Xpand!2 has remained popular because it has the same great sound quality as the other AIR plugins. The polyphony is impressive, and with up to four parts per patch and extensive individual control over each of them, as well as two powerful effects processors and the improved arpeggiators it's possible to come up with some very complex and interesting layered multitimbral tones. With a large selection of solid and musically useful sounds and a fast, intuitive user interface, Xpand!2 is the kind of virtual instrument that you'll find yourself relying on for project after project. At this price, it's a no-brainer purchase. Let the users of other DAW programs besides Pro Tools rejoice!
AIR Music Technology Xpand!2 ($99.99, available direct from AIR Music Technology's website)
- Compatible with AU and VST only. (AAX version available in AIR Creative Collection)
- PC: Windows 8 Professional, Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate edition with Windows 7 Service Pack 1; Minimum Dual Core 2GHz (Intel Core i5 or i7 Recommended)
- Mac: Mac OS X 10.8, 10.9; Core Duo Processor (Core i5 or i7 Recommended)
- Minimum RAM 1GB (2GB or more Recommended)
- 1GB free hard drive space (Download and Installation)
- A 64-bit compatible host application*
- Internet access (Download and Authorization)
- PC: VST64 is qualified for Cubase 6 (64-bit) and Ableton Live 9 (64-bit).
- Mac: VST64 is qualified for Cubase 6 (64-bit) and Ableton Live 9 (64-bit). AU64 is qualified for Logic X (64-bit).
AIR's Xpand!2 overview and walkthrough video
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.