This is my synthesiser. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Although modified from the 1st verse of the “Rifleman’s Creed”, this could also be true for software synthesisers nowadays. Since the early days of virtual synthesisers like Steinberg’s ‘Model E’, emagic’s ‘ES1’, or Native Instrument’s ‘Pro-52’ back in 2000, the market has exploded and tons of software synthesisers of each variation are available for reasonable prices. These even include software emulations of nearly every hardware synthesiser that has ever existed.
iZotope first released Iris in 2012, following it up in November 2014 with Iris 2. Let’s have a look what makes Iris 2 so special amongst virtual synthesisers, and if it really is a viable option to expand your arsenal with.
What is Iris 2?
In a nutshell, Iris 2 is an innovative virtual instrument that combines the power of a sampler with the flexibility of a modular synthesiser.
- Inspiring patches: Hundreds of compelling patches in categories like Leads, Keys, Bass, Rhythmic, and more
- 11 GB sample library: 11 GB of audio samples for use in any sampler
- OSC WAVs: Dozens of classic analog oscillator samples or oscillator waveforms
- Import own audio files to craft truly one-of-a-kind sounds
- Unique Spectral Filtering Tools: Spectrogram display, Spectral Filter, Selection tools
- Flexible Modulation System: Over 100 modulatable parameters, Envelopes, LFO, assignable MIDI controllers and Macro controls
- Enhanced Effects and Filters: Distortion, Chorus, Stereo Delay, Reverb and Filters
- Intuitive Workflow
- Price Tag: $299 USD ($149 USD upgrade from Iris)
Installing Iris 2 itself is painless, but installing the complete library takes a bit of time and needs a bit of patience, in order to understand which files are needed, since the library itself is split into independent packages. First, there is the ‘Iris 2 Core Content Installer’ that includes an additional 300+ patches for Iris 2 and their complementary samples. You can also download the so called ‘Iris 2 Sample Library Installers’, available for Abstract, Environments, Instruments, Objects, Synthesizers, Toys and Voices. After having downloaded and installed all 8 packages, you’re ready to go with the fully installed 11GB library.
How Does Iris 2 Work?
The core of Iris 2‘s engine is the ability to layer up to four distinctive audio samples, then use the spectrogram display and selection tools to spotlight their most interesting spectral characteristics. You can play and tune samples as you would in any traditional sampler, as well as in various modes, like sample forward, reverse, looped, and one-shots. For real time pitch-shifting, you are offered the so-called ‘Radius-RT mode’. In this mode, playing the sample higher up the keyboard changes the sample’s pitch, but not its speed as it otherwise would on classic samplers or other engine modes.
With the modulation possibilities come the opportunities for fun in the sound designing game. Iris 2 offers 5 LFOs, 5 ADSR Envelopes, 8 Macro knobs, MIDI mappings (mod wheel, aftertouch …), and all in all over 100 Modulatable parameters – the definition of Heaven for sound designers! All parameters being modulated or automated are reflected through visual feedback on the GUI. Assignment works with drag-n-drop style mapping (meaning you can drag a modulator and drop it onto the parameter you want to modulate), as well as right-clicking parameters to assign modulations. Once dropped, you can scale the depth of modulation on the target circle. A ring will also appear on the target, allowing you to further adjust the modulation intensity. This is nearly the same modulation system found on Native Instruments Massive, and I quite like this way of assigning modulations – it is easy and intuitive.
Besides the synth parameters, every parameter in the included effects can be modulated. Beside the 4 master effects, Iris 2 sports 4 insert effects per sample layer. The following effects are available (quoting the descriptions from the Iris 2 Features section on the website):
- Distortion: Add grit and saturation to your sound with six distortion filters like Tube, Clipping, and Aliasing, taken straight from iZotope’s award-winning Trash 2.
- Chorus: Supply a subtle widening or radical flanging with a spacious chorus effect, inspired by a classic ’80s synth chorus, but with modern flexibility and control.
- Stereo Delay: Enjoy lush, crystal-clean decays with a tempo-syncable stereo delay. A bonus analog-modeled overdrive algorithm crunches and darkens your delayed signal like a classic tape echo or bucket-brigade pedal.
- Reverb: Expand your sense of space with a meticulously modeled Plate Reverb tailored specifically for synths, great for everything from subtle ambience to cavernous pads.
Unfortunately, Iris 2 only has one master filter. It would be great to see here a traditional filter section for each sample layer (the spectral visual filters are of course available for each sample layer). This would expand the already enormous sound possibilities even more. Having said that, the master filter contains 17 different filter ﬂavors, including classic analog Low-Pass and High-Pass filters as well as exotic Vocal Formant, Band Pass, and Peak filters from Trash 2 – enough possibilities to shape the sound for your taste.
There are still tons of features and posibiliites in Iris 2 to shape your sound. A spectrum analyzer window helps keep an eye on the frequencies during sound design work, and sections of the GUI can be undocked and moved over to a second monitor. Another welcome feature (and a huge time saver) is the ability to double-click a parameter and enter a numeric value without using the mouse. Last but not least, there is a key-mapping feature to create splits between the four different layers.
Iris 2 is a real sound and modulation monster. The potential for sound design is endless, and only your creativity can set the limits. The GUI is really intuitive, and although I feel I have only scratched the surface, I was able to dig directly into the workflow of Iris 2. The manual is also very well written and easy to understand.
What about the sound? Here’s the thing: Iris 2 will sound as good or as bad as your samples sound. Iris 2 itself has no sound as it is sample based, and the samples themselves are all played back perfectly.
The only other thing I feel might work against Iris 2 is the fact that it is a CPU hog, but it is worth the hit and the price tag for the result you get. All in all, I can say: This is my synthesiser. There are many like it, but this one is mine.