Technology

Field Test: Steinberg Hypersonic 2 Multitimbral Synth

LARGE LIBRARY OF SOUNDS WITH SEARCH ENGINE AND REWIRE 3/01/2006 7:00 AM Eastern

Hypersonic’s deeper voice-editing options are tucked away in the panel on the right.

Multitimbral “workstation” synthesizers were once fixtures in nearly every project studio. But in the new world of software synths, they're few and far between. Most manufacturers with the resources to develop or license a massive sound library have put their weight behind software samplers.

Steinberg bucks the trend with Hypersonic. Although it's a closed system — you can't add to the 1.7GB library of factory samples — several other types of synthesis besides sample playback are part of the package. If you already have an extensive sample library, then you're probably better off buying Native Instruments Kontakt or Steinberg HALion. But if you need a soft synth that covers piano, organ, choir, guitar, drums and five dozen other meat-and-potatoes sounds, and can do modeled analog patches, then Hypersonic is worth considering.

New features in Version 2, which lists for $399, include fully programmable voicing, several new effects and user-assignable macro knobs for easy modulation. Hypersonic is 16-part multitimbral, so you only need to load one instance to get a full ensemble. In addition to being Mac/Windows cross-platform, it's ReWire-compatible, so Pro Tools users needn't be frustrated by the absence of an RTAS version. Copy-protection uses a Syncrosoft USB dongle, which can hold licenses for numerous Steinberg products.

START YOUR SOUND ENGINE
Workstations live or die by the quality and variety of their factory sounds, and Hypersonic scores high in this area. Its built-in library runs to 1,800 patches in 46 folders; even a cursory description of the complete soundset would fill pages. The synth sounds are especially vibrant, and everything is more than usable. I'm not too fond of the solo orchestral instruments, but to be fair, this is a weak spot in many sample playback synths. The string section patches are pretty good, and the contemporary percussion is colorful and punchy. The big stereo “ahh” choirs are sumptuous, and the distorted electric guitars' crunch is satisfying.

The acoustic pianos are a bit bland and compressed, but the mallet percussion and saxophones are excellent. The acoustic bass doesn't have enough sustain and editing the envelope doesn't fix it, but the electric basses are very solid. The tempo-stretchable drum loop patches are all one measure long, but you can edit a pattern to double its length, and some of the beats change when you push the mod wheel up. When I used a Hypersonic beat in a song, I ended up layering in a snare on another channel because the beat itself didn't kick enough to avoid getting smothered by my rather busy arrangement.

The folders of presets are arranged in a rough order (percussion first, then keys, mallet percussion, basses, guitars, orchestral, winds, ethnic instruments and synths), but listings within a given folder are an utter jumble. If you remember the name of the patch you're seeking, then you can use Hypersonic's search engine. Another approach is to create a Favorites folder to store often-used sounds.

MODELED SYNTHS AND MORE
The standard soundset also includes model-ed analog, FM and wavetable synthesis. The FM implementation is extremely simple, but it's a welcome addition to the palette. An arpeggiator with a user-programmable step sequencer is also included. The grand piano and analog synths are identical to add-on modules formerly marketed by Wizoo.

User sound programming is much more flexible than in Hypersonic 1. It's now possible to add new elements (either synth voices or effects) to a patch and to choose a new waveform for a sample playback element from a menu of hundreds of waves. The interface for sound editing is rather cramped and spartan. Easing the burden are the six Hyper knobs, which are set up at the factory with useful parameters for quick twiddling of things such as tone and attack. In V. 2, the Hyper knobs can be reassigned to other parameters, and most of the synth edit parameters can respond to MIDI control change data, so the possibilities for automation are far greater.

I employed Hypersonic 2 in various projects and found it stable and eminently usable. When I put it through its paces, Hypersonic performed like a champ. A couple of analog-type presets are out of tune with reference to concert pitch, and the FX send sliders at the bottom of the element (voice insert) effects don't seem to do anything.

THE LOWDOWN
Hypersonic faces some serious competition from other software samplers, but it has its strong points: great soundsets and exciting new features. For instance, loading patches into a Hypersonic combi and programming the combi with panning and MIDI settings is easy, and MIDI keyzone and velocity crossfades are now supported. In addition, you can use up to 16 stereo outputs, and if your CPU will handle it, you can have dozens of effects running at once.

Another strong point — and unlike a hardware synth that has a fixed set of effects processors — Hypersonic doesn't choke off or change the timbre of notes that are currently sounding when you load a new patch. So even though there are some downsides, Hypersonic is worth a serious look.

Steinberg, 877/253-3900, www.steinberg.de.


Jim Aikin writes about electronic music and plays electric cello. Visit him at www.musicwords.net.