DCAM Synth Squad: The Boys Are Back In Town
As most producers in the music profession are aware FXpansion software is synonymous with superior sound quality, a fact largely attributed to the audio company’s proprietory DCAM (Discrete Component Analogue Modelling) sound system which drives the sound engines of FXpansion’s highly regarded software products: Tremor, Geist, and the DCAM Synth Squad. This review will focus on the latter by welcoming the boys back home with a favourable light cast upon a few of the prominent features available in FXpansions outstanding DCAM: Synth Squad bundle.
The Road From Analog To Digital: FXpansion’s DCAM Synth Squad is a formidable ensemble of 3 carefully modelled synthesizers: Strobe – a flexible modelled Monophonic synth, Amber – a vintage modelled String Synthesizer and Cypher – an analog FM synth emulation which, due to their meticulously engineered circuit models, are considered to provide that much sought after link between Analog and Digital. Each synth in this exclusive collection of FXpansion VST/AU/RTAS instruments loads either in stand alone mode, as individual units in a host DAW environment or combined inside DCAM Synth Squad’s Fusor semi-modular performance workstation. All 3 synths of the DCAM Synth Squad share common features that invite new modes of expression using the power derived from the very best features of legendary ‘old school’ synths, routed through FXpansion’s dynamic ‘Transmod’ modulation system.
Of all of the DCAM synths Strobe, in particular, is a cool example of how FXpansion have bridged the gap between analog and digital. It is a very flexible single oscillator synth modelled upon the great ‘classic’ performance synthesizers like the Roland SH101, Oberheim OB-1 and the Yamaha CS-10. Although primarily billed as a monophonic synth great for fat bass sounds and ripping leads, Strobe does provide the option to add voices to create polyphonic textures for pads and chords.
Through subtractive synthesis methods Strobe delivers a wide and varied sound pallette by freely mixing Saw waves, Pulse and Noise waveforms along side Triangle and Sine-waves using the dedicated mixers in Strobe’s Oscillator, Sub-Oscillator sections and the dial-in rotary of the Pulse Width section. The textural density of Strobe’s sound can be emphasised as a sonic feature through the synth’s ability to generate unison voiced multi oscillator tones. This feature is made possible in Strobe using an innovative sound design structure known as ‘Stacking’. The process of ‘stacking’ means that Strobe’s oscillator can be copied, ‘stacked’, and detuned up to a maximum of 5 oscillator layers, each on top of each other, producing fervent textures.
FXpansion’s DCAM filter, razor sharp and tight, supplies a generous assortment of filter types, perfect for sound sculpting, with an offering of 22 different filter curves in total. In addition, there is a rich modelled ‘Drive’ circuit in the DCAM filter, found in both Strobe and Cypher, which drives the gain stage of each synth to produce varying degrees of tone colouration ranging from subtle warmth to aggressive analog growl.
Although Strobe is often regarded as the easiest of the DCAM Synth Squad to use by way of programming sounds quickly, dont be deceived. Strobe clearly demonstrates an exceptional depth and detail. There is enough power and vibrancy in Strobe’s impressive architecture to achieve a wide variety of dynamic timbre. Through the forces of pure invention using the synth’s unique features of oscillator ‘stacking’, the modelled drive circuits of the DCAM filter, and the modulation power of the Transmod system – comes a stellar sound born of real substance.
DCAM Modulation: There is an extensive array of modulation sources in the DCAM Synth Squad which include ‘Direct’ modulation sources and those sources associated with FXpansion’s Transmod advanced modulation system. ‘Direct’ modulation in Strobe exists in the form of hard wired modulation sources comprising an LFO – Key Tracking and a Modulation Envelope. The signal from each ‘Direct’ modulation source can be affected using different Gate Modes before reaching the DCAM oscillators and Filter cut-off. The amount of signal from each ‘Direct’ modulation source affecting the Oscillators and filter cut-off is governed by a strip of dial-in rotaries in the DCAM Oscillator and filter sections.
Transmod: FXpansion’s widely acclaimed ‘Transmod’ advanced modulation system is a comprehensive sound animator that provides an extensive range of parameter modulation. It is a core design feature which provides all the modulation sources necssary to weave and embellish a sound into a complex sonic tapestry.
At the top of each DCAM synth there 8 ‘Mod Slots’ each assigned a modulation source. Clicking at the top of the ‘Mod Slot’ opens a drop down menu containing a healthy resource of alternative modulation sources to choose from. When a Mod Slot is active it is illuminated and the destinations available for modulation using that particular modulation source also light up in the DCAM synth interface making connections easy to identify. Dragging up or down on the outer rim of a Mod destination rotary or selecting a fader and dragging, will adjust the amount of modulation affecting that parameter. All parameters affected by Transmod modulation will reflect their amounts in yellow.
Make no mistake, Transmod is an extremely powerful tool with a host of advanced features which extend beyond the simple task of modulation assignment. The ‘Load to Mod Slot’ for example, is an unprecedented feature which provides endless combinations of sound shaping and transformation by combining and manipulating targeted parameters derived from existing synth patches and morphing between different patches.
Presets: There are literally hundreds of quality designed preset patches to choose from across all of the 3 synths of the DCAM Synth Squad that clearly demonstrate the flexibilty and depth of each synthesizer. The presets have been designed by some of the most profiled designers in the profession, such as: Tasmodia, BioLabs, Industrial Strength Records, Electric-Himalaya, Armin Van Buuren, Dom Kane, FXpansion’s very own Angus Hewlett and Rory Dow to name but a few.
Browsing the preset patches in any of the DCAM synths involves using the preset drop down menu where patches are listed into helpful categories with sub-menus. However, more flexibilty can be achieved using any of the DCAM Synth’s built-in patch browser which allows preset patches to be auditioned before loading them proper. Hitting the cancel button in the patch browser will revert to the previously loaded preset. When saving a patch it is recommended to use the category abbreviation as a prefix. This way the patch will be saved to the relevant patch folder and appear correctly in both the patch browser and the preset drop down menu.
In performance, the sound of the DCAM Synth Squad brings a lot of character and raw attitude into the mix. There are no onboard effects to boast of in any of the 3 synths, which, from a design aesthetic, remains true to the original synthesizers that all DCAM Synths are modelled upon. That said, in DCAM Synth Squad’s Fusor performance workstation there are a host of effects available. These effects include; four Breverb reverberation effects powered by Overloud, with every other effect in Fusor developed using native FXpansion code. Some of FXpansion’s native effects also use circuit modelling, such as the highly regarded FXpansion compressors.
The range of dynamic acheivable using the DCAM Synth Squad is impressive. From soft warm strings, overdriven bass lines or the searing lead sounds that carve through a mix with sonic serrated edges, DCAM synths have it all. No matter what the musical context, there is always the presence of spirit, an undeniable quirky character of sound that is born in the digital realm of FXpansion’s DCAM technology and sounds superbly well in the adorned world of analog realism.
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Brought to you courtesy of Soundwrx Digital