To complete the review of all of the new virtual instruments in Pro Tools 8, let’s check out Vacuum. Admittedly, I’m not totally knowledgeable when it comes to analog synths, but I’ll tell ya… running through the parameters on this synth was quite enlightening. After reading up on and tweaking Vacuum’s controls, now I feel like I can intelligently create my own sounds from scratch or intelligently alter the presets on this instrument. Here, I’ll share the way I went through the controls.
For this review, I recommend loading up a preset sound and tweaking the parameters as I mention them here. Twist all the knobs from side to side. Totally dive in. Because a lot of the parameters are linked to each other, you might tweak a control and nothing will happen. If the parameter doesn’t affect anything, then either adjust one of the other parameters in the same section first or try a different preset. OK, on to the review…
Vacuum is a monophonic analog-style synth with a lot of sonic control. Modeled after classic synths, it has one control per parameter and no menus… which is a novel feature these days. ☺
On the left side, it has two Vacuum Tube Oscillators (VTOs). All sounds originate here. Range sets the octave for the VTO, Fine varies the pitch up or down 7 semitones, Shape continuously morphs the VTO between several wave shapes, and Env 1 to Shape controls the modulation of the current VTO wave shape by Envelope 1.
In Mixer section, the two oscillator signals are mixed. Drive adds distortion, RingMod creates a ring modulation effect by multiplying the VTO1 and VTO2 signals together. This is one of my favorite effects of all-time.
Next there’s the Filter section where there’s a High Pass Filter and the Low Pass Filter. These do exactly what their names say… they either let high frequencies pass through, or low frequencies pass through. The VTOs volume level drives these filters… use the mixer volume at a low level for cleaner tones, or boost the mixer volume for more distorted tones.
On to the Filter parameters…
Cutoff – the frequency where the HPF or LPF begins to cutoff the frequencies
Slope – sets the curve of the filter slope. Higher values mean higher slopes and more frequencies are cutoff
Reso refers to resonance, which is the amount of signal that’s fed back into the filter circuit
Env 1 controls the amount that the filter cutoff frequency is modulated by Envelope 1. When it’s centered, no modulation occurs. Move it right for positive modulation, left for negative modulation.
Key Trk controls how the pitch affects the filter’s cutoff frequency. There’s no effect at 0%, but at 100% the frequency is directly related to the keys played.
Sat adds saturation to the resonant feedback loop.
Below the filter section is the Envelope section. Envelope 1 modulates each filters’ cutoff frequency over time, while Envelope 2 modulates each filters’ amplitude over time. Or you can assign them to modulate other parameters using the Modulation Routing section. Use the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and Vel (Velocity) controls to adjust the modulation envelope shape.
The Modulation Routing section enables you to change up the signal routing within the synth if you want to dig deeper into designing sounds. Choose a source and a destination, then choose a depth to set the amount that the source modulates the destination.
Use the Age controls to add pitch drift and dirt to the sound. At low levels, Drift can actually thicken the sound, while higher levels can detune the sound heavily. Dust adds noise to the sound, mimicking how real dust might affect an older synth.
The VTA (Vacuum Tube Amplifier) section sets the master (Vol)ume and is the last place you can add saturation and distortion to the signal using the Shape control.
The ARP section is where you can add an arpeggiator to the sound. On/off is self-explanatory. Rate is the speed of arpeggiation while Mode refers to the direction or shape (up, down, up/down, or random) of the arpeggiation.
The Pitchbend and Mod Wheel can be easily assigned. Use Dest to choose what parameter the Mod Wheel controls (Vibrato, Wah, Tremolo, or Nothing). Rate selects the modulation speed. Click the Setup button (the little wrench icon) to access the Glide, Pitch Bend Range, and Envelope Retrigger settings.
Vacuum is obviously a pretty deep instrument. There are some great sounds in the roughly 200 presets that come with it, but I’d recommend spending some time testing out and reading about its parameters… the time will be well spent as you explore the sonic possibilities that this instrument has to offer.