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IN STOCK NOW: Fxpansion DCAM Synth Squad

Published: Wed November 04, 2009  News Feed

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Introducing an evolutionary leap in software synthesis technology. DCAM: Synth Squad finally delivers the satisfaction of playing real analogue instruments in software!

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Advanced modelling technology carefully reconstructs the soul of dusty vintage circuits within your computer, for the unmatched vibe of hardware at a fraction of the cost.

At the heart of DCAM: Synth Squad are 3 modelled synthesizers - Strobe, Amber and Cypher - bulging with the immense weight and power of old-school analogue. These are no mere emulations stunted by the limitations of the past. Instead, they combine the best features from legendary machines with new and exciting ideas to drag them kicking and screaming into the modern world.

DCAM: Synth Squad - Frequently Asked Questions



What is DCAM: Synth Squad?

DCAM: Synth Squad is a collection of 4 software instruments:

Strobe: a next-level performance synth - easy to program, begs to be played
Amber: a groundbreaking divide-down string ensemble synth emulation
Cypher: a complex 3-osc synth with dual filters/waveshapers and realistic audio-rate modulation
Fusor: a semi-modular layering/FX/step-sequencing environment for the above synths

Why 4 separate instruments instead of everything in a single plugin?

The DCAM instruments are designed to be dedicated to specific tasks - to combine all their features into a single synth would mean a very big, complicated instrument, very likely to be difficult and frustrating to program! It would probably require multiple pages, which would make it more difficult to check out what's happening in any single preset.

Apart from this, dedicated instruments with their own character can inspire you in unique ways. The immediacy, character and 'fun factor' of many vintage analogue synths often comes from their limitations. This is not to say that the DCAM instruments are 'limited', however - there's enough information throughout these pages to show that this is not the case at all!

If you just want a simple but huge bassline instead of indulging in extensive, experimental multi-osc sound design, you'll achieve quicker results with Strobe than Cypher (and vice versa). And if you need a really complex sound design environment with effects, Fusor lets you load exactly what you need, and combine the elements in useful ways.

The overriding motivation behind the design of DCAM: Synth Squad is musicality - we wanted the instruments to be useful and inspiring in a musical context instead of trying to shoehorn as many features as possible into a single plugin. And while it's easy to start creating great sounds straight away with DCAM: Synth Squad, we're confident that it has enough depth to keep you musically inspired for many years.

Why does Strobe only have a single oscillator?

Strobe is designed to be quick and easy to program. It has features such as intuitive osc-stacking, parallel waveforms and sub-oscillators to cover much of the territory of a multi-osc synth's timbral spectrum. Of course, these features do not cover all possibilities, and therefore you should use Cypher for more complex sounds as it is much more suited to multi-osc sound design. A Roland SH101 or Yamaha CS10 has no problem sounding huge with only 1 oscillator though, and neither does Strobe!

Alternatively, you can use 2 or 3 instances of Strobe within Fusor - the FuseMod system allows you to share modulators like LFOs and envelopes between the synth instances.

Lastly, if you want to get clever just within Strobe, you can use the TransMod system to repurpose Strobe as a 2-osc synth (with each osc having its own filter and amp):

1. Adjust the Voices and Unison settings to 2.
2. Choose Unison1+ as a TransMod slot source - with 2 unison voices, the 1st voice outputs a modulation value of 0, and the 2nd voice outputs 1.
3. Any modulation depths in this TransMod slot represent the 2nd voice and, in effect, the 2nd oscillator, filter and amp.

Can you explain more about Amber and the concept of 'paraphony' ? 

The term 'paraphonic' was first coined by Roland on its classic RS-505 Paraphonic string synthesizer, and has become a commonly used term for classic string ensemble synths. Synths of this type used frequency-divided oscillators to produce all notes on the keyboard simultaneously within a single synth voice, with a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) and amp envelope within the osc section - sometimes even a VCA and envelope for every single keyboard note.

Such synths are not 'true polyphonic' synths. To be fully polyphonic, a synth must have an osc, filter and amp section for each voice. Paraphonic synths effectively produce multiple notes but put them through monophonic filters and amps. You'll find a detailed explanation of divide-down string synths in part 20 of the Sound on Sound 'Synth Secrets' series.

Amber is capable of producing a variety of different string synth behaviours (and can be switched to normal monophonic/polyphonic behaviour if you prefer), and can even stack paraphonic voices in order to create new and exciting sounds. Within the paraphonic note generation sections, it features 12 oscillators, 384 amps/envelopes and 192 tone filters. It therefore uses quite a lot more CPU per voice than Strobe or Cypher.

What is audio-rate modulation?

'Audio-rate' means 'at the speeds of audible frequencies'. Modulating the frequency of an oscillator at very fast speeds such as that of another oscillator (rather than, say, an LFO) creates tonal changes rather than pitch changes such as vibrato. Audio-rate modulation can approximate the types of complex changes in harmonics over time that are evident in acoustic sounds. Cypher contains a number of ways of performing audio-rate modulation, such as FM, wave modulation and audio-rate sample-and-hold.

Oscillator sync is also a form of audio-rate modulation - both Strobe and Cypher are capable of this function, although Cypher's implementation is more versatile.

Please read chapter 4 of the DCAM: Synth Squad operation manual for more details on audio-rate modulation.

What analogue synthesizers are the DCAM synths modelled on?

The instruments in DCAM: Synth Squad do not emulate any particular analogue synths - instead, they involve analysis of a large variety of synthesizers in order to create models of new instruments.

Some of the synths analysed during the development process are the Roland SH101, Oberheim Xpander, Alesis Andromeda, ARP Omni, Korg MS-20, various Moog synths and Analog Systems modulars, amongst others.

Do the DCAM synths have built-in effects?   

The individual Strobe, Cypher and Amber plugins do not, but Fusor contains an extensive suite of high-quality FX that can be used as inserts on synth instances, aux sends or as inserts on the final output.

We wanted the synths and their presets to stand out on their own as vibrant and powerful sound sources, rather than drenched in shiny effects that may or may not fit into the context of your project.

We also wanted our preset designers to really delve into the deep synthesis potential of DCAM: Synth Squad, rather than being tempted to slap on a bunch of effects to make interesting sounds.

Lastly, we wanted our product to stand up to real analogue synths, which have no problem sounding great without built-in effects (the one exception is Amber, as a chorus is intrinsic to the sound of a string ensemble synthesizer).

We're confident that you won't be disappointed with the lack of effects in the synths, and that the quality of the 'raw' synth sounds will pleasantly surprise you. You'll also find that the Fusor FX suite is of exceptionally high quality - in a totally different league to the generally 'cheap and nasty' onboard reverb/chorus found on most synths!

What is the full list of Fusor FX?

Gain, Noise Gate, EQ, EQ-Filter, Comp Chan (limiting amplifier type compressor), Comp Bus (console bus compressor), Delay, Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, RingMod, TinCanVerb, Filter Mod, FreqShift, BitCrusher, Drive, Freezer, Amber Chorus, Amber Formants, Breverb Hall, Breverb Ambience, Breverb Plate, Breverb Inverse, Quad Filter, Quad Drive, Quad Comb, Quad Delay.

All parameters of the FX can be modulated (for example the Gain/Pan device can be modulated with an LFO to function as a tremelo/auto-panner), and all FX devices feature a Wet/Dry mix control.

Can the DCAM synths be used as audio effects in my host? 

Strobe, Cypher and Amber are supplied as instruments *and* MIDI-controlled audio effects. External audio appears in place of each synth's white noise audio source. You must make sure you engage the synth's amp by playing a key - otherwise you won't hear anything.

The effect versions should not be considered as 'filter plugins' - they are exactly the same as the instrument versions, but instead utilizing the 'MIDI-controlled audio effect' plugin type to make it possible to use external audio as an osc source and process it, alone or alongside the built-in oscs, through the filter and amp sections. The amp must therefore be gated by MIDI note input for audio to be heard. This can be a continuous long note - if you are using purely the external audio input, you can make the synths behave like 'filter plugins' in this way. Alternatively, you can 'play' the synth - for example, triggering a sampler patch and routing its audio through the synth played with the same MIDI data. This way, you engage the envelopes and other gateable modulators, stack the input and process the copies differently with unison modulation, and so on.

The ways in which MIDI-controlled audio effects are set up vary considerably on different hosts. When time allows, we may create a PDF guide to setting up MIDI-controlled audio effect plugins in major hosts. Until then, please contact your host vendor for instructions if you do not know how to accomplish this function. The DCAM synth FX versions operate in the same way as any other MIDI-controlled audio effect plugin, and have been tested to work in the latest versions of the following hosts:

Pro Tools
Logic
Ableton Live
Cubase
Digital Performer
Reaper
Sonar

What's possible with the MIDI-controlled effect versions?

The external audio appears in place of the white noise source in the osc section of each synth.

All operations further down the signal path from the oscs can be performed on the external audio - i.e. the filter and amp sections, along with the waveshapers in Cypher.

In Cypher, you can use the external audio within the specialized oscillator functions. This includes acting as a source for audio-rate functions (although you cannot perform audio-rate modulation on the external audio signal itself). Try it with the FM, WM and audio-rate sample-and-hold functions!

If you want only the external audio to be heard (for example, to use the synth as a filter/drive effect), turn down all the other osc source levels except for white noise. You must send the plugin MIDI notes to gate the amp - you can do this in a rhythmic way or use a constant note to use it as a conventional audio processor. The 'Hold' button in the Keying controls can be useful here - if enabled, notes are held indefinitely without needing to keep the key held down.

Alternatively, you can use the other osc sources alongside the input if you prefer to use it as more of a 'synth', allowing many creative applications. You could, for example, run a sample-based instrument such as a piano into a Synth Squad FX plugin with the standard osc waveforms active alongside the input, and use the same MIDI data for both tracks - effectively creating a hybrid instrument.

You can use the synth's unison/voice modulation functions with the external input. With 2 unison voices, the external input (or inputs in Cypher) will be doubled, and you can use a unison modulation source in TransMod system to create different settings for each of the voices - for example different filter types, drive amounts etc.

Is a printed manual supplied with DCAM: Synth Squad?

The boxed version contains a printed quick-start guide that provides a guide to installation, authorization and first steps to learning the software. The download version only comes with this guide as a PDF file.

The main operation manual is supplied as a PDF file with both the download and boxed versions.

You are free to print the PDFs for your own use. Please make sure you install the latest version of DCAM: Synth Squad first - the latest version contains a number of error corrections in the operation manual.

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