It’s easy to be skeptical about computer programs that advertise thousands of vintage synthesizer presets in one convenient package. Some digital reproductions of analog keyboards sound thin and watery when compared to the original synthesizers.
But Analog Factory, a new program from Arturia that retails for a reasonable $250, presents a huge library of authentic-sounding presets organized into straightforward, easy to navigate categories in a simple, no-frills manner. It boasts 2,000 presets culled from six of the company’s virtual synthesizers: the minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80V, ARP 2600 V, Prophet V and Prophet VS.
Installing the program on an average desktop computer took about 25 minutes, which was longer than I would have liked. It requires a key code on a separate USB device in order to operate, which was an added hassle. The program wouldn’t run if you didn’t insert the device, which used up an extra USB port. But once the program was up and running, it more than made up for the extended setup time.
Analog Factory has a simple display that allows you to switch between three main skins: a keyboard, a digital screen with a list of presets or a combination of the two. While the presets don’t sound quite as good as having the actual synthesizers in front of you, they come pretty close to capturing the warmth, depth and richness of the original instruments. A certain amount of sound quality and control is sacrificed for the program’s stripped-down interface, but the trade-off is well worth it. With the program, you can conjure leads or soundscapes similar to those on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” or Herbie Hancock’s Thrust and Head Hunters albums. It’s no surprise then that Hancock praises Analog Factory on Arturia’s Web site.
Other presets sound more like they belong in the score to a 1980s Chuck Norris flick. Either way, considering the number of authentic-sounding presets from six synthesizers, you’re bound to find a few dozen that you like, no matter your taste.
With a few clicks, you can sort the presets according to the instrument they’re from, the type of sound you’re searching for (percussive, lead, strings, piano, organ, etc.), how much computer memory they use or their characteristics (acid, soft, soundtrack, digital and others). But even with all of the categories and sub-categories, it can be time-consuming to locate a specific sound on your first go-around. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, you can add it to your list of favorites and quickly pull it up from there. Still, sorting through each one of the 2,000 presets could take several days.
It could also take some time to get used to certain Analog Factory functions. To turn the knobs on the computer screen, you must click them and drag the mouse straight up and down-instead of in a circle, as you might expect. And while some of the knobs could correspond with ones on your keyboard (cutoff, release, resonance), you may have to manually adjust others, depending on which keyboard you use and your MIDI settings. Connecting your own MIDI-compatible keyboard to Analog Factory with a MIDI link is effortless. The number of knobs on the program is thankfully kept to a minimum of about a dozen, which makes modifying the sound less complicated. Adjusting some of the original keyboards was a bit like piloting a spaceship. With Analog Factory, you can save your modified presets, import others from your computer or export your modified presets to other computers. Also, the majority of the presets have polyphony, which is a big bonus.
A good number of the sounds require a high level of computer processing speed to run smoothly, so if you have an outdated computer, Analog Factory might not be the best choice. But I was able to run almost all of them with little or no problems on a pretty standard desktop PC.
The sound designers surely had a blast naming the presets, which range from standard, self-explanatory titles such as “Wurlitz” to the oddball but still appropriate “Whatthef” to the even more obscure “Veloraptor.” Most of the names-especially the weirder ones-are fairly easy to remember, making them easier to pluck out of the bunch and dial in.
Analog Factory is more than just fodder for vintage synth fans. The program keeps the average keyboard player in mind-it’s easier and more accessible than some of the original synthesizers it emulates. Changing from one preset to another is fast and simple, and the sound quality is top notch. It’s a great program for session recording and live shows alike.