Camel Audio, founded in 2000 by programmer Ben Gillet, is an Edinburgh, UK-based company that is making waves in the software and effect plug-in market. And with good reason. Along with Gillet, the team that created Cameleon 5000 include programmer / musician Rob Martino, and sound designers Tim Conrardy and Colin Fraser (AKA BioMechanoid), both of whom have created presets for many leading instruments and sample libraries.
Camel Audio's flagship product is Cameleon 5000, an additive synthesizer with some interesting twists on additive synthesis. Additive synthesizers, in principle, create sound by producing and combining waveforms pitched to different harmonics, which create the unique timbre of sounds. Additive synthesis is a means of taking these waveforms and changing them over time.
Camel Audio has taken this concept and pushed it even further. At the heart of the synthesizer is a feature called the morph square (see screenshot below). It allows an artist to morph between four different sounds. There are four slots, labeled A - D, in which you can either load factory presets or user presets you create by importing and customizing .wav or .aiff audio files (more on this in a moment). Above the morph square, is the morph timeline. This is where the magic happens. The morph timeline uses the voices loaded in the morph square and morphs them according to points on the morph timeline, denoted by graphs that correspond to the X and Y axis of the square. Editing of morphing behavior can be done directly on the grid beside the morph square or by editing the corresponding X-axis and Y-axis graphs on the timeline. Each provides a different perspective of how the sound is morphed. As with voices, files that control the behavior of morphing can be loaded, customized and saved.
The imported sounds themselves are not loaded in the way a traditional sampler does - the sounds are analyzed by harmonic content and then can be modified and saved as any voice patch in the program. You can even import multi-sampled sounds (up to eight layers).
You can customize any existing voice patch, or even start from scratch with a raw waveform (sawtooth, sine, etc.). Each of the 4 voice patches can be edited right down to which harmonics are emphasized. This provides an easy method for dramatically changing the characteristics of the sound itself. There is a built-in modulation router for real-time sound manipulation; nearly every parameter in Cameleon can be automated (see screenshot below). Additionally, the instrument can be micro-tuned to scales not available in the traditional even-tempered system. This ability provides compositional flexibility.
Interface and Modes of Operation
The interface of Cameleon 500 is a real joy. Every mode of the synthesizer is accessible from the front panel. If you want to make highly complex edits to sounds or setup modulation, you can access these modes easily with the press of a single button. If you'd prefer to just use patches and want to work with a minimum of fuss, there is a handy "easy" mode. For the adventurous (or if you are simply interested looking for inspiration), you can randomly select effects or patches with a "random" button.
The plug-in, because it does not use samples, carries a very light footprint. In my tests, Cameleon consistently used between 2 - 3% of CPU use, which is very light considering the range and complexity of sound-shaping capabilities. The developers at Camel did a really nice job optimizing the synth for real-world recording and sound-design usage.
Some Final Words
If you are looking for a "bread and butter" synth, that is, a one-stop synth that can do everything, this is not the right synth. This synth excels at pads, basses, sound effects, and leads. It doesn't provide realistic emulations of piano, strings, and other acoustic sounds. These are better off handled with a traditional sampler that uses multiple velocity layers and extensive multi-sampling. Cameleon doesn't have the fatness or warmth of an analog-style synth. It is, however, a very robust sound-design tool and instrument for specific uses. The sound quality is top-notch and the morphing and modulation capabilities are nothing short of amazing.
Camel Audio Cameleon gets 9 out of 10 stars from me. It's easy to use and comes with a well-written manual (in pdf format). There is technical support available on the website, as well as links to download additional patches. There are also additional commercial libraries available should you want to augment the existing library. A user forum, hosted on KVR, is also available for users.
Camel Audio Cameleon is available for $199, or as part of a complete package that includes Camel Space and CamelPhat3 for $299. Educational discounts are available.
Links and Additional Resources
Additive Synthesis links
Cameleon 5000 Homepage
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