New from Spectrasonics is the long awaited update to their continually useful and still viable Atmosphere. Given the present state of the economy worldwide, if you could only add one or two programs to your musical production arsenal before year’s end, Omnisphere would have to be at the top of the list with Symphobia from Project SAM a close second.
Omnisphere comes with literally thousands of new sounds and features that you’ll find to be useful and practical for just about any musical style you’re producing. For those who enjoy or have a passion for programming sounds, or doing sound design, Omnisphere is a virtual dream come true given the number of features available to let you customize or design from scratch. Rather than taking up space to list what you can read for yourself, just click here to read Spectrasonics’ list of product features especially the number of programming features and controls. It’s lengthy and impressive.
That said, if you’re a composer who’s never tweaked a sound, or if you’re a composer who’s never had any desire to tweak a sound, or if you’re a composer that only wants to do the most basic tweaking (like me), you’ll really appreciate Omnisphere because of the quick way you can do simple things to create big results.
The organization of Omnisphere I have to classify as being ingenious. All of the sounds can be found under three different browsers. Keeping it simple, the organization of the browser works much like a blog in that for each sound there are tags (like you see posted here on Film Music Magazine). Type a tag name into the search engine, and it brings up all the programs attached to that tag. You can also create new tag categories to customize how you hear sounds.
With one exception which I’ll discuss briefly, from beginning to end, this entire project has been thought out with exceptional quality care and design that completely takes into account the user experience including installation, which is the one thing I complain about in most every review.
I’m restating what I said in a private letter to Spectrasonics. The installation process is a textbook model for the industry. It’s well thought out. To my pleasant surprise, the contents of the installation manual actually mirrored what I saw onscreen.
This rarely happens with music technology applications, so Spectrasonics is to be applauded for this.
For the Mac, there’s an installation guide for the Mac itself, a separate tutorial for installing to an external drive (very good thinking!), and finally, how to install on the PC.
Registration with the challenge/response mechanism was very easy, and I might say, a pleasant change from having to deal with USB keys for copy protection. I wish more companies would look at how Spectrasonics uses challenge/response for copy protection. My time here was well managed.
AUDITIONING THE SOUNDS
This is where my main critique falls. After installation, the user wants to know four things right away:
1. What does it sound like (confirming a good buying decision was made) and are the sounds useful for my composing applications today and in the next year?
2. Where are the effects and what are the definitions of their controls (to sound “Hollywood” big, many sounds have lots of reverb that need to be backed down a bit, e.g., dryer)?
3. How do you set up multitimbrally (so you know how to approach working in your sequencer)?
4. What are the system integration issues for Mac, PC, 32bit and 64bit?
Both the User Guide and the Reference Guide stopped short on these four points all of which were resolvable with either a few PDF pages or teaching graphics. However, while I’m advised this aspect will be remedied by December they weren’t ready when I initally installed it in late October.
What bothered me about this was that the installation manual was as flawless in accuracy as you could ask for. And I mean that sincerely. Yet, instead of putting forward just a few quick start slides (PowerPoint or Keynote) pages were taken up covering Intellectual Property Rights dos and don’ts. As a publisher, I totally understand this. But as an end user, it would have only taken a short time to create a few PDFs or JPGs that could have been downloaded or included on the CD which would have taken the end user from installation to immediate use without having to wade through two hours of videos post-installation since they’re only available to registered users.
In the absence of this info, I’ve created a few graphics for Film Music Magazine readers that cover points 1 and 2 above to demonstrate in a glance just how swift Omnisphere is to learn at the most rudimentary level.
EASY TO USE
Omnisphere is really quick to use. Once you get to the main screen, you’ll see three folder icons (see the arrows in the slide). Clicking once on any folder opens the browser for that group of sounds. In the upper right hand corner is the Master Volume fader. I suggest you pull that to the left to lower the volume a bit to avoid distortion. Click the diagram once to see it full size.
THE PROGRAMMABLE FX LIST
Omnisphere comes with 30 programmable effects. Click the graphic once to bring it up to full screen.
THE PRESET LIST
Click the graphic once to bring it to full size.
As you can see from these few slides, Omnisphere is a serious self-contained musical production package.
INCLUSION OF THE BEST OF…
One of the questions we composers have been posing to Spectrasonics for a while is, “What about Symphony of Voices?” Well, I’m personally delighted to report that Omnisphere contains a good dose of that grand product. So, no more importing! They’ve also included a good smattering from Hans Zimmer Guitars, Vocal Planet, Distorted Reality and others.
TESTING A SOUND
Because I was working on a vocal arrangement, from the Patch Browser list I decided to select a sound included from Symphony of Voices called Boys Choir. A compositional memo: now that we’re clearly in the Holiday Season, this group of programs sounds great and is enormously timely.
Back to work: Look at the slide below and you can see the context sensitive browser in action. For the most amount of choices, select ALL. Click the graphic once to bring it to full size.
PRESET FX FOR BOYS CHOIR
Once I selected Boys Choir I just clicked on FX to take me to the screen below. You can see that Boys Choir only has one reverb applied. Other sounds, of course, are more deeply effected, but what you should observe from this graphic is the completeness of the reverb unit. As you work your way through each of the effects, you’ll find the same level of completeness. Click the graphic once to bring it to full size.
Now at the time I did this, there was no comprehensive user guide included. It was still in production. One of the issues I encountered is that there was no list of the definitions for each of the controls. For example, Room Size. Obviously I know what that means, but I don’t know what their definition is. Here’s where I’d much prefer a PDF or JPG “flip chart” so that I can go to a screen capture of the effect and see a brief one line definition of the controls.
Even though I know Spectrasonics is developing a complete guide, I’d really prefer to have my time better managed with something more simple to get going, and then have the detail in the online documentation to take me deeper.
THE VIDEO TUTORIALS
I watched a couple of the teaser videos on the main web site then after registration I entered the user area and watched the first 22-minute video. The video was well produced, but for training it felt more to me like a NAMM presentation. There’s a lot of good information in it, and you get the sense quickly of how easy Omnisphere is to work with.
So it accomplished that mission.
However, following what both EastWest and the Vienna Symphonic Library do, I’d like to see the user demos be moved out of the “user area” and into the main site since watching them requires keeping track of your serial number to continually log in for viewing. Since there’s no auto registration on the Spectrasonics site, this is yet one more thing to keep track of.
As of this writing, November 9, 2008, there are no audio demos posted on the Spectrasonics site. However, they are coming. For now, the only way you can hear audio demos is to watch the videos or, as Eric Persing, Omnisphere’s creator suggests in the videos, search the Net and other forums to find them.
Here, having co-produced the Modern Symphonic Orchestra for E-MU I’m half sympathetic to the lack of demos, even though at this writing Omnisphere has been out for just shy of two months. Spectrasonics has invested a tall sum in creating Omnisphere and no doubt wants the most perfect demos possible to avoid the hawking criticism from a few that now appears to accompany the first wave of promotional demos for nearly every new virtual instrument.
Understandable. But the reality of product reviews today is that we have now in the music technology sector a 3-stage review process that the marketing mix now needs to account for.
1. The first reviews are from the end users, a trend that has spilled over from Amazon.com (where if you do get a bad review, companies cannot jump in to defend themselves). Here, you don’t know who the reviewer is if a handle is used to identify themselves. Is this person really a pro? A fan? A wannabe? A weekend warrior? Is the complaint legitimate or pilot error? A “masked” competitor taking shots? If it’s illegitimate, how do you reach this person beyond PMs on the forum?
2. Next come new media publications like Film Music Magazine, KVR, SonicControl.TV and then music retail sites like audioMIDI, Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend. With new media, a developer has room to defend themselves in either forums or below the review if it’s set up blog-like (as it is here at Film Music Magazine). Developers cannot defend themselves on the music retail store reviews outside of calling up and screaming at management.
3. Last in the review chain is print media (which garnishes the majority of ad dollars) where the reviews can often appear several months later when the product is no longer new, but its reputation in the minds of the composing community can be largely set.
This means – for the marketing mix, developers now need to build effective relationships with new media because when bad stuff (or good stuff!) is said on the forums, it’s the new media that can give them voice to compensate or augment. At the same time, developers have to accept the reality of the news cycle which they’re now apart of. It’s today. It’s right now. A product can only be reviewed or talked about for where it is today, not where it’s going to be in two or four months, especially if it was released too early and it’s buggy. To paraphrase a common political thought: you can pretend, but you can’t hide.
So having read my critiques of the documentation for Omnisphere, keep in mind they’re for today. As demos are released and documentation is enhanced, we’ll note it as a news update.
Homework for you – always check the Spectrasonics web site to see what’s up.
I haven’t talked about setting up multitimbrally because that’s too much to cover for a first article. What I can tell you is that it’s quick to use and that you can setup eight-part multitimbrally. How it works multitimbrally in each sequencing program is the next story. But happily, Spectrasonics, unlike any other developer, has promised specific tutorial helps for each sequencing program. Kudos on that future point. We’ll look for it.
Omnisphere is 32bit right now, so I refer you back to our anchor article on this ever present discussion to see how it applies to you.
Overall, there’s more to talk about with Omnisphere than one column permits. What I can tell you that I know from recent experience is that Omnisphere is a truly great program and a great value for the working composer/songwriter/sound designer.
I stand by my conclusion that Omnisphere is an indispensable part of the composer’s tool kit and though times are tight, take a good look at it, because if you write for a living, you may find it to be one of those tools that can help loosen the belt.
The list price is $499.95, but this item is short discounted and so the street price is $479 and change. I checked at AudioMIDI, Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend and the price is literally within a few cents of the other.
Re: Shipping. Some companies have been using DHL because of its great pricing. Unfortunately, on Monday November 10, DHL announced it was suspending US express mail shipping to focus only on International orders. So if you see the shipping rates go up, don’t blame the dealer.
TrueSpec Systems is not a dealer for this program.