Heavyocity – Calc-U-Synth…. Everything with Chips!
there is no getting away from the current propensity among sample library and plugin developers to release retro chip libraries, I’m not exactly sure what’s driving it, if like me you are old enough to remember the original computers, consoles and devices that produced these sounds you may recall at the time that our main mission was to hurry ourselves into the future where we would have the technology to rid ourselves of such sounds (despite some sections of the musicians union perceiving them as a threat to their livelihood!), so to some of us it may seem a little strange to want to revisit them in the 21st century!
Having said this, I have just snapped up Heavyocity’s ‘Calc-U-Synth’ whilst it is on introductory offer more for nostalgic purposes, but have to confess to rather enjoying the 8 bit retro trip, even though there are a plethora of real orchestral sample libraries tucked away on my hard drive.
For once with a Heavyocity product you won’t have to concern yourself with not having enough hard drive space for their latest audio monster, Calc-u-Synth is a Reaktor instrument that takes up less than 50Mb of disk space, that’s still 49 times the memory of my old Atari St but this is 2017 and disk space and memory is literally as cheap as chips!
Created for Heavyocity by ICEBREAKER AUDIO Calc-u-Synth is a recreation of Casio’s VL-Tone pocket synth and calculator produced between 1979 and 1984. By it’s very nature it has minimal controls and options when compared to most modern plugins, so let us take a quick tour and see what’s what!
The Library Browser
Bypassing Vendor and Product, the third controller knob is assigned to banks where you will find the following categories.
Fx, Melodic, Rhythmic which are then sub filtered by type providing sound fx, Synth lead, synth miscellaneous, Bowed Strings and Synth pad.
Further filtering of sub types give such delights as Synth Strings, Machine, Classic Mono Lead, Dirty Lead, Other lead, Soft lead, Fx synth, melodic sequences, other sequences, percussive synth, Bright pad, Dirty pad and other pad.
The penultimate knob is mode, which provides Appregiated, Glide/Pitch Mod, Monophonic, Percussive, Sequence/loop, Slow Attack, Synthetic and Tempo synced.
Finally the preset knob gives us access to the 75 preset patches.
The Edit Section
As with most Komplete Kontrol libraries the controls that are mapped to the keyboard knobs are a compromise between performance and quick tweak controls and more advanced library functionality and features within the GUI that do not lend themselves to knob mapping such as button click events. This is particularly true of Reaktor based products where users can create their own instruments by way of incorporating a variety of blocks, in a similar way that a modular hardware synthesizer is patched together.
Naturally there is no accessible way to do this, so some of the possible signal routing options that our sighted counterparts enjoy are not available to us, frustrating of course but whenever I hit those roadblocks I have to remind myself that less than two years ago none of this would have been possible without Komplete Kontrol access.
Sweeping eyeball envy aside, here’s what the edit section actually offers.
Page 1, Calc-u-Synth- Waveform, Attack, Decay 1, Breakpoint, Decay 2, Release, Vibrato, Tremelo
Page 2, Circuit Bending & Key Clicks – Bend, Glitch, Tune, On/Off, Vol Down, Vol up
Page 3, Speaker & Arp – Mix, Resonance, Room, On/off, Clock Div, Length
Page 4, Filter – On/off, Cut-off, Resonance, FM, KeyTrack,
Page 5, Delay – On/off, Time left, Time Right, Feedback, Level
Page 6, Notes & Sequence – Glide, Legato, Clock Div, Smooth, Length
Some explanation of some of the above controls is in order, firstly I was pleased to find the all important waveform control, it might sound like a prerequisite which of corse it is, however I have come across one or two libraries that don’t allow us to change this via the knob mapping which results in any creative sound design possibilities being severely stifled right from the outset.
Calc-u-Synth has 10 to choose from, I thought I might have found a dedicated noise waveform or some form of white noise generator but this is absent, slightly puzzling as I distinctly recall the Casio VL-tone generating some great simplistic rhythms (think Da Da Da by Trio!).
The Circuit bending and Glitch are a welcome addition, as these significantly increase the scope of the sounds achievable within the library, and at least make some modern sounds possible.
There are keyswitch sounds which have been sampled from the original VL-Tone to give the tactile sound of the plastic keys being pressed, they are assigned to midi note on and off and have independent volume controls or can simply be turned off as desired.
The actual speaker from the VL-Tone was recorded and modelled to add to the authenticity along with a small room reverb.
The arp can be turned on and off per patch, and the clock rate divided by itself to give a very slow or extremely fast ‘chip rhythm’ which is a useful sound design tool. The other knob assignments are pretty self explanatory, and for those that aren’t it’s fun to explore anyway.
Fun is certainly a word I’d use to describe Calc-u-Synth, it’s quirky and enjoyable with a price tag that won’t break the bank, the sounds it can create are pleasing enough to be deemed ‘cool retro’ and juxtored alongside some more mainstream sounds might produce some fantastic EDM.
Calc-U-Synth is available directly from the Heavyocity website for $19.00 as an introductory price (normally $29.00).
Ice Breaker Audio
The author accepts no responsability for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article.Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review writer with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.