Since releasing REV last year, Output have become a well known name in the sample library realm. REV took a popular effect (reversing) and turned it on its head by building a fully fledged sample library based on that idea. Having created a name for themselves by not making “standard” sample libraries, many wondered what we’d see next from them – SIGNAL is it.
SIGNAL is described by Output as “The World’s Most Powerful Pulse Engine“. The basic idea behind the library is to provide users with synth pulses by combing “FAT analog synths and beautifully recorded live instruments“.
Taken from the Output website:
- 500 Pulse Instruments for instant playability
- A massive array of content
- 40GB (uncompressed) including analog synths, digital synths and organic instruments
- Up to 4 separate pulses at one time
- All pulses lock to tempo
- Rhythms: Looper, Step Sequencers, Arpeggiators, LFOs
- 4 central MACRO sliders unique to each of the 500 Pulse Instruments
Download and installation of SIGNAL was simple as expected. Everything was done through the Continuata downloader app and I left it on overnight to download and extract automatically. The next morning I found everything extracted and ready to go after registering the serial number with NI.
SIGNAL‘s interface is undoubtedly very beautiful and well laid out. You can tell a lot of time and effort has gone into making sure everything is easily accessible, yet flexible and feature rich. (they actually mentioned that 70 peope worked on the project, so probably quite a lot of graphic designers in there!).
The interface can be split into 5 main categories:
- Main interface
- Instrument / Synth browser
- Advanced interface
- Preset browser
- Effects interface
The Main Interface
The main interface (seen above) is split into two basic areas – the top half offering four sliders, and the bottom providing information on organic and synth pulses being combined, along with the wave shapes and some basic panning, volume and instrument details. This is the “basic” version of the interface, and we’re provided with loads more customisation options by pressing “advanced” which will bring up the advanced interface.
The four sliders you are immediately greeted with are just one of the great features of SIGNAL. Each set of sliders has been created specifically for each of the 500 instruments on offer and can make a range of changes including adding distortion, filters, changing ryhthms, adding reverb and more. This is a great way to get instant inspiration and modulate the sound on the fly to make it your own. You can also view what each slider does on the Macro Page, so you know what’s happening under the hood when using them.
Instrument & Synth Browser
You can select the instruments or synths to combine by clicking on their icons, which will bring up the instrument / synth browser (below). There are 25 instruments and 25 synths to choose from, which are deeply sampled with multiple dynamics and round robins so that repetition is expressive and realistic.
The advanced interface (below) provides the user with access to the “Pulse Engines” area, which although it looks pretty complex, is very intuitive thanks to its clean layout. In here you can adjust the step sequencers, change rhythms, edit global or individual effects, edit ADSR, volume, filters etc.
The way SIGNAL is laid out means that each sound or “pulse” goes through two “engines” – the first is “Main Rhythm” and second being “2nd Rhythm”. This layout is mirrored left and right as the same process occurs for both sounds being combined. The “Main Rhythm” is the first engine the audio passes through and in here you can start to create edit your source audio by choosing a waveform, step, arp or loop, choosing the time signature of the pulse and then adding further effects like filters, panning, distortion etc.
Moving onto the “2nd Rhythm” area, the audio can then be given further rhythmic modulation through a step sequencer or through an LFO with the same effects, which again allows you to choose a “pulse rate” for it (eg. 1/2, 1/4D etc.) . Combine all of this together, and you get a rich pulsing sound that has plenty of movement and modulation to it.
SIGNAL comes with just one “Kontakt” patch technically, meaning you need to load the full library first, and you can then browse the “presets” within it by using the “preset browser” (see below). You can cycle through the presets by clicking the left and right buttons at the top of the interface, or by clicking on the preset name (eg. “Dark Clacks” below), which brings up the full browser interface.
The presets are broken down into a selection of easy-to-understand categories, making it very simple to navigate to a preset sound you’re looking for. There are 501 presets to choose from in total which is a great start, and thanks to the unique sliders for each preset, you can quickly and easily transform a preset into your own unique sound.
SIGNAL also has a selection of in-built Kontakt effects to choose from including EQ, Compressor, Phaser, Chorus, Limiter, Filter, Delay and Reverb. This can be accessed by clicking on the “Effects” tab at the top of the interface (see below)
How Does it Sound?
SIGNAL’s sound could be described as “a pulsing and modulating mix of natural and electronic sounds“. It can go from simple, clean sounds to dark, gritty and complex atmospheres; ambient, soothing pulses to booming and aggressive tones.
I found pretty much every preset to be inspiring to play with, and simple to sculpt into my own sound. Its flexible enough to create pretty much any “pulse” you can think of, and the source audio is deep enough to create an incredible range of sounds. As a film and TV composer, I could certainly see myself using SIGNAL for a range of musical styles – mainly atmospheric, crime, dark, moody, tension building genres – but I don’t think its limited to just underscore music. There’s plenty of great sounds in here to create electronic music in a huge range of different styles. I could definitely also Signal being useful for sound designers to create atmospheres, transitions and evolving sounds.
Is it Worth the Price Tag?
SIGNAL is priced at $199 (excl VAT) which seems fair considering the amount of content and flexibility the library offers. That price tag stings a bit more as a European customer with the bad USD to EUR conversion rate currently, along with VAT thanks to new European laws, but that’s no fault of Output and is the same with all companies.
For 200 bucks you’re getting 40GB of source sounds (uncompressed) and a very flexible tool for sound design and underscore music. Full time composers will definitely drop their money on it as its the perfect tool for creating organic pulsing sounds that would definitely have taken longer to make from scratch.
Personally, I think Output should invest some time in creating some demo tracks to showcase the sounds its capable of creating as I found it a bit difficult to hear the sounds in isolation on their website (although they do have a great “In-Action” video which walks through some standalone sounds). Some people may argue that what SIGNAL offers could be easily replicated by combining real instruments with synths. However, I think that what it really offers is a huge amount of flexible sounds, laid out in an easy-to-use way, that will save people time and give them hours of inspiration.
SIGNAL certainly left no stone un-turned when it came to creating every type of “pulse” you can think of. If you’re a film / game / TV composer, sound designer or electronic musician, Signal is a brilliant addition to your arsenal.