*Disclaimer: I'm a songwriter, producer, and educator. My writing style may seem a bit over-the-top like a billboard ad, but my user review is sincere and authentic. I only write about a product I think is extraordinary, hence the high rating. I don't work for developer. In fact, I rarely work at all. :-) I hope you find my findings useful. — Tommy Zai
Ultra Analog VA-2 by Applied Acoustics Systems is a versatile subtractive synth that covers the full spectrum of analog sounds. I was, and still am, a big fan of VA-1, but VA-2 is all that and much more. Like its predecessor, this synth does not directly emulate any specific vintage gear; but is a unique virtual analog beast in it's own right. There are many great factory presets that show off the synths capabilities; however, I found it easy to start from scratch and create my own patches. The low-end delivers deep, punchy basses that are free of mud. Great synth brass! But, what I like most are the sweeping, atmospheric sounds. They are really creepy and set the perfect mood for my tracks. The filters and resonance help to create a smooth and pleasant texture. Tracks recorded with VA-2 are alive and sit well in the mix — not lost or overshadowing by the other tracks. I could not hear any weird alias artifacts from the oscillators in any of the factory or custom-made patches — so nice and pure. What a treat.
Small HD footprint, .dmg is 20.9 MB/no samples used.
GUI is compact, which can be good at times, but my weary eyes would like the option to scale to a bigger size J.
Ultra Analog VA-2 lives up to its name — Ultra + Analog. It can do it all really well – thick basses, warm strings, deep pads, punchy plucks, and crisp leads, etc. It doesn't have the some of the frills and gravy other synths pile on, but it has more than enough raw, juicy meat! I agree with Hollin Jones of Music Tech, "Ultra Analog is a joy to use." This plugin could easily be the go-to subtractive synth for any e-musician, producer, or sound designer looking for the vintage analog sound. Tommy Zai gives Ultra Analog VA-2 two oscillators up! Thank you AAS for creating a timeless virtual analog synth.
REVEW OF PREVIOUS VERSION Ultra Analog VA-1 by Applied Acoustics Systems is a rich, warm, fat analog monster worthy of much more attention. On the surface it appears to be a simple little plugin, but under the hood there must be a lot going on! It can produce punchy, powerful bass and cutting leads. The interface is neat, clean, and easy to navigate. Most of the work can be done on a single window. The CPU consumption is light. The look is cool. The sound is super. The only thing I would suggest improving is the size of the little switches on the interface. Otherwise, this is one big, fat, fantastic classic analog sounding soft synth that is a great bang for the buck! It is exactly what the name suggests — Ultra Analog.
I bought Ultra Analog a while ago, and for whatever reason It just sat in my folder not used for a long time. I kept thinking however that there was something special about it, this thought had been the reason I'd bought it in the first place. I had planned to give it a thorough check out but never did, until finally I thought it would be a good idea to make a trance sound-bank for it.
Now, at least when it comes to trance, Ultra Analog is not one of the big name synths. This comes down to its simplicity of features and marketing. However despite its simplicity it does have enough features to make it quite versatile. As has been said, the features have been chosen carefully. A choice of both exponential and linear envelopes, multiple filter types, 6 distortion algorithms, dedicated pitch modulation and vibrato, up to 4-voice polyphonic unison, legato, an arpeggiator and the ability to route filters in series or parallel add up to a lot of flexibility.
Two filters with 8 types each to choose from give this synth a lot of character, they include notch and formant, and they are very good. If you were to class sound as warm dark or clear and bright these are warm and it is easy to make this synth sound fuzzy, characterful, soft, harsh but never sterile. It is very easy to get all kinds of colourful tones out of these filters, especially at high resonance.
A few complaints I did have though is that it is easy to make the sound distort (I mean in the bad way), this is partly because the knobs and level displays are all quite small making it a little more difficult to judge the gain levels. I remember it took me quite a while to get used to properly setting up patches to avoid huge gain jumps at certain filter intervals. The Envelopes are loop-able but not sync-able. Finally I wish the LFO had a sawtooth waveform, but this could be overcome in other ways sometimes.
On the one hand the GUI is a little annoying because it is small, but on the other hand this compact view helps the work flow. It is really nice having every control immediately visible and it really helps you visualize the signal flow.
Once you get used to the its parameters it is very quick to use. I initially intended to make 128 patches for it, but in no time I had made 180 and although I've called it a day for my first set I could easily see myself going back to it to create more. The filters can morph the sound of this synth so much that you really feel that you have a whole world of sound to discover, especially when routed in serial. They change the character more so than many others I have used. It is easy to make beautiful sounding patches on this synth, especially once you learn to avoid overloading it, and in the end that is what you want a synth for.
One final thing, I have had problems with some analogue emulations before when trying to get them to work in a modern style. Sometimes their sound is just not flexible enough to get away from a "vintage" sort of sound and sometimes they have such an unstable sound that I simply could not make them work in trance music. I think it might be due to the phase of the oscillators. I am happy to say that VA-1 really does well here. It does have the warmth of analogue and yet it worked really well for trance music.
Finally, as AAS are well known for their acoustic emulations, I did not think it was strange to describe the sound character of this synth as "at times acoustic". If you listen to the first piece on my audio demo you may agree with me. I've made patches like this before on other synths, but they do not sound like this.
This is a really useful sound to have in a synth and It is one of the things that makes me want to come back to it later as I feel it could do with a lot more exploration. I really do think it has a unique sound.
About the score, for me 10 does not represent perfection because I believe there is no such thing when it comes to something like this. 10 is where I really feel that a synth meets all expectations for what is actually has. What I mean is, I wouldn't dock a point because there are no wavetables when its clearly designed to be an analog-style synth. I gave it 9 because there were some minor annoyances with the levels and couple of other things I mentioned already.
Still sounds very good to me. I am more impressed now than I was then. I have lowered the score to reflect
1. It has some glitches occasionally.
2. As useful as its features are it is also very expensive. For this price you can get more features synths and more realistic analogue emulations.
I was drawn to the Ultra Analog VA-1 because of two things: sound and simplicity. I’m a firm believer in simplicity, because it allows me to create the sounds I hear in my head, fast, without losing the creative “flow”. But then, if you don’t like the way a synthesizer sounds, there’s often not much you can do about it. I am happy to announce that I like the sound of the VA-1 very, very much.
User Interface & Features Many argue that classic analog hardware synthesizers are so great to program because of there simple one knob, one function layout. The VA-1 is not based on a classic hardware synthesizer. AAS did, however, create a design which could easily have existed somewhere between the moogs, arps and oberheims. There are (almost) no menu’s involved in operating VA-1 and control is direct and straight forward. Of course this means that AAS could only put in a limited set of features. So a feature based comparison with NI’s Massive, or MOTU’s MX4 would make the VA-1 look very restricted. I find, however, that they selected the most important features with care, and there is so much you CAN do, and it all sounds so well, that you easily forget about everything you can’t.
I only have two minor issues with the user interface: some UI elements are very small and they did not label the switches that reverse the polarity of modulations. This means you may need to place your mouse very accurately to toggle some switches, and that you may have a hard time figuring out what some of the buttons do. I like the compactness of the interface, though.
Sound If you want to get a good impression of what this software is capable of download the free “Swatches” soundbank series compilation on the AAS website. It contains some examples from soundbanks created for the Ultra Analog VA-1. I fell in love with these sounds, downloaded the VA-1 demo and was hooked immediately.
Much of the characteristic, strong, sound of the VA-1’s is due to it’s filters. It’s astonishing how much these filters change the sound of the raw oscillators. (Listening to the presets in the vocal and percussion categories I was often wondering how the hell they got those sounds from a simple sawwave!) The formant mode is pretty unique and makes the VA-1 capable of creating sounds that are at once very synthetic and very vocal. This is ideal for creating ambient pads and drones. The more classic types like lowpass and hipass sound very analog to me and can be beefed up with various kinds of drive/distortion. Fat bases, raw leads and thundering soundeffects are very easy to come up with.
Features Most typical of the VA1 is it's routing. It's not simply two oscillators going into a filter section followed by an amplifier, but it is actually two compleet, almost identical, signalpaths, both comprising an oscillator, filter and amplifier with panning. Added to that you get an extra noise source, which can be fed into either filter or both and the abillity to cross-route the signal between the two paths. This means you can build a sound by combining two completely different, independant sounds, or you can use all the components together as one to build a more unified sound.
The VA-1 has all the features you’d expect on a typical analog synth. 2 oscillators with saw, sine and pulse waveforms, pulsewidth modulation and sync, noise generator, two filters with dedicates envelopes, 2 lfo’s, 2 amplifiers with dedicated envelopes and panning. Mono and poly modes, arpeggiator, portamento, unison and master effects: chorus/flanger, dely and reverb.
The filters are in parallel by default but can be used in series as well and filter 2 can be set to track the cutoff frequency of filter 1. The envelopes have various looping modes and the lfo’s can be synced to host (in plugin mode) or external midiclock (standalone).
The most remarkable missing feature on the VA1 is FM. There is no way to modulate the frequency of the oscillators, or (I would have liked that even more) filter with the oscillators.
A nice bonus is the ability to save, edit and recall maps of what midicontrol is assigned to what knob.
Documentation I found the documentation very good. It’s well written and in the form of a pdf, which suits me well, because I like to read my manuals on the iPad.
Presets There are many presets and there easy to manage in the tree-view browser. It’s also easy to set up presets for control by midi (program change messages). The presets are categorized well, and they are very useful and inspiring. So much so, that you’ll have created loads of new ones from them before you’ve tried them all.
Customer Support The order process is very straightforward. You get your download link instantly along with your serialnumber. After installation you have to authorise the software online, but this is easy and fast.
I did not need customer support, so I can’t say anything about response time.
Value For Money I think $199, - is not very cheap for a synthesizer this simple, there are software instruments that offer more features for less. But I do think that Ultra Analog VA-1 is so useful because of it’s sound and it’s ease of use that the $199, - is really a very fair deal.
I felt ripped off later, though, when there was a great discount a few months after I got it.
Stability I’ve experienced no issues so far with stability and VA-1 does not take up too much CPU.Read more
I've been holding off on buying a VA for a long time because, while the sounds are good on many of them, their architecture is usually quite limiting. But I found a huge discount on Ultra Analogue so I thought I'd take a chance on it.
First thing I noticed was the sound. The oscillators are fantastic. I can't think of anything I've used that has better sounding waveforms. I'm particularly pleased to find sine waves as an option. Which is another feature usually missing from emulations of classic synths. The filters also sound very rich and sweet. Although, at high Q settings, there are nicer sounding filters out there. But if you want screaming leads, they will certainly scream for you.
Next up, the signal path is quite flexible for what it is. 2 multi-type filter and amp paths. Each with an ADSR for the filter and another one for the amp. Plus one lfo for each chain. Oscillators can be mixed between the 2 paths and filter one can be routed to filter 2. So you can use the filters in series, parallel or a mixture of both. Simple ideas, but they weren't on the early hardware synths and so they are not usually on modern emulations. The sound can be further treated by an arpeggiator, a further vibrtato/ tremelo lfo and 3 fx.
The GUI is not pretty. But it is set out to make the signal path easy to follow. Which is probably more useful than a nice graphic, anyway.
The manual is fine for getting your head around this synth. Given the straightforward nature of Ultra Analogue, it'd be hard to fail on this score. Only criticism I can think of is that it took me 3 or 4 minutes to work out that the big green LED over the modulation knobs was the invert button they referred to in the manual. Took me a couple of tries to work out that it wasn't an on/off switch. I don't know if you'd blame the manual or me for that confusion.
Customwer support? What can I say? I bought it, I installed it, and it ran just fine. I have no idea if AAS will answer your emails or not. And that's the way I like it. I guess that addresses the stability question as well.
Which brings us to value for money. For me, knowing what I do now about it, I would have happily paid the full price for this toy. Mainly because it covers the bases that so many classic emulations miss. But. given the popularity of synths like Oddity and Minimonsta, I have to think that I might not be your typical customer, here.
Still and all, if you want some classic analogue sounds in a quick and easy-to-program package, you'd be hard-pressed to beat this synth.Read more