Rob Papen bills his virtual instrument line as “inspiration soundware.” At the age of 15, he began composing music with a Korg MS-20 synthesizer and an SQ-10 sequencer, and by the time he was 18, he had a number one hit with the Dutch synthesizer group Nova. Papen, a Christian artist, was inspired by pioneering groups such as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis. As he became known and respected as a sound designer, he began to develop his own line of software instruments, which today include such respected offerings as Albino 3 and Blue; some exciting new synthesizers, currently in development, will be unveiled later this year.
Simply put, this synthesizer sounds amazing. It comes with 15 banks of sounds that range from 68 to 127 presets with plenty of room to spare for creating and saving your own patches. Two of the banks were created by noted synthesists Ian Boddy and Junky XL. Though Predator is clearly geared toward dance music, with many presets focusing on rhythm and movement, to think of it only as a dance-oriented instrument is to miss the possibilities this instrument offers. It can do everything from subtle-moving bass lines to ambient pads to screaming leads to sound effects and everything in between. The sounds are very warm and have a lot of presence on recorded tracks. The UI design is gorgeous. The controls are well thought-out, and the synthesizer is very easy to use.
|View of Predator's Main WindowThis view shows the oscillators, filters, amp section and presets in "free mode".|
Predator contains three oscillators, which can be loaded with any of 128 forms that range from the traditional sine, square, and triangle to vox to a number of special waveforms, such as pink and white noise generators, labeled as "spec." The waveforms can be tuned by semi-tones and custom-tuned even further with fine controls. You can even dial in square wave sub frequencies. Oscillators two and three can run independently of oscillator one or they can be synced. After the oscillators are two multi-mode filters, including an ADSR envelope with an additional fade function. There is a filter LFO and a Pitch MOD LFO and a dedicated amplitude section that has its own ADS(F)R envelope. All functions are accessible from the front panel, including two sections that move like panels:
1.) an "Advanced" area, where you can tweak the over-sampling mode and further adjust the final characteristics of the sound, such as shapes that define attack, decay and release, and velocity;
2.) the arpeggiator, which is a combination of a 16-step sequencer and arpeggiator with a unique function that allows you to tie together notes. The ability to choose the oversampling rate is a nice feature because oversampling reduces artifacts in the sound. The higher the oversampling, though, the higher the CPU hit, so you can adjust the amount of oversampling for the best results of individual use. Predator defaults to 16x oversampling, which is why it sounds so good, but the CPU hit at this setting ranges from about 8% to 15%.
One of the coolest features of Predator is its approach to variety. You can choose two different presets that morph into each other and then store that as another preset. You can also introduce random elements by using a "variation" knob that allows presets to vary in small or large amounts depending on the setting. You can even apply this to the effect chain.
All this sounds complicated, but it's not, thanks to the clearly designed interface and accessibility of every function from the main screen. For example, the main screen has a window in the lower right hand corner that displays the bank and preset. When (or if) you want to tweak any of the advanced controls, you click on an arrow labeled "adv." and the advanced panel opens. To return you click on the same area, which now reads "Preset". Thankfully, there are only two of these hidden panels, but I suspect they were created to keep the interface clean and easy to understand.
Predator has two modes of operation. A free mode that allows you to play the instrument like a normal synthesizer and an arp mode. To access the arp controls, you click on arrow labeled "arp" under the section labeled "Free". Like the advanced controls, this toggles the window to another series of controls.
|Predator with Both Panels OpenThis view shows both of Predator's hidden panels open. The lower left shows the arpeggiator.The lower right shows the "advanced" screen.|
The arpeggiator has many interesting features. You can treat it like a step sequencer and detune and set velocity levels for any of up to 16 steps to create melodic patterns in different arpeggiating modes: up, down, up/down, down/up, random, ordered, reverse ordered, and others. There is even a setting to use the arpeggiator as a modulator for the free modulation section so that you can create gating effects, filter sweeps, and other unique effects. You can tie notes together, adjust the length of the steps, and adjust the amount of "swing" to give the patterns a different feel.
Predator comes with three effect slots that are run in series. 20 effects, including mono and stereo delay, chorus, reverb, Lo-Fi, compressor, and amp simulators, are available. These effects are of such good quality, in fact, the company has chosen to make these available as a separate effects unit as well, meaning you can use the effects with any of your other virtual instruments or as part of an effect chain in your host software.
A cool feature of these effects is an online vocoder. You can load a sample file into a sample slot and automatically use Predator as the carrier or you can use the vocoder through the fx as a plug-in, where it functions like a "normal" vocoder, and you can choose the carrier and modulator.
It's very clear that the user experience has been clearly thought through with this synthesizer. In applications where you can turn off the graphic user interface, every parameter is labeled. In addition to this being a good practice (believe it or not, some companies just label device parameters as "parameter 1, 2, 3, etc."), it aids with automation features in applications where you can draw envelopes. In some hosts, this really doesn't matter because automation is recorded through knob movement, but in those that allow you to add nodes or draw envelopes directly on the affected track, it is a really nice feature to have the automatable parameter labeled so that you know exactly which parameter is being effected without having to guess or run some tests first.
List price: Euro 149 (included VAT); USD 179
Academic versions are available
Predator is available in RTAS, AU and VSTi formats
The final verdict
Predator is a fun, easy-to-use instrument that sounds phenomenal. It is well designed, and after several weeks of testing I could not find any bugs or behavior problems. It comes pre-loaded with a wide-variety of patches and sound banks and has plenty of room to store custom-created patches. With intelligent preset morphing and a robust arpeggiator, it's loaded with features that don't bog down your creativity.
CPU efficiency: 8
Ease of Use: 10
http://www.music.robpapen.com/ (personal music)
http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=55 (support forum)
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