What is a good alternative to Omnisphere

Spectrasonic Omnisphere V2.6 with hardware integration in the test

by Frank Schreiber,

Spectrasonics ’Omnisphere no longer needs to be presented to producers. The software synth has been on the market for too long and has been at the forefront ever since, to be passed by. However, the fact that Omnisphere has been a serious candidate for the stage for some time due to the combination with existing hardware synths has probably escaped the attention of many live musicians.

In order to further expand the suitability for the stage of Omnisphere, Spectrasonics has chosen popular hardware synths and assigned their control elements, such as potentiometers, faders, buttons etc., to the corresponding parameters in Omnisphere, whereby these hardware synths are now transformed into highly specialized controllers of the software synthesizer. This of course makes a slimmer foot in the live setup, because an extra controller is no longer necessary here, but the existing synth can simply be used. Among the hardware representatives currently supported are classics as well as current synths, some with sonorous names such as Moog, Dave Smith, Clavia, Access, Roland, Korg and many more. The complete list with the currently 65 supported instruments can be viewed on the Spectrasonics website and will probably continue to be expanded, as has already been the case.

The corresponding Omnisphere update was published by Spectrasonics in versions v2.5 and v2.6. In addition to the hardware synth integration, the two updates included around 1,600 new sounds in the form of a new hardware synth library and numerous changes under the hood, such as: B. more layers, envelopes and LFOs per patch, additional filters and wavetables as well as a heavily bored arpeggiator - to name just a few. And the best thing about it: all of this as free updates and as a pure source of joy for all Omnisphere 2 owners.

The existing hardware synth can be conveniently selected from the over 60 supported models using the drop-down menu.
Each supported hardware synth is represented with specially programmed Omnisphere sounds (here the Nord Lead), which are combined in the new hardware synth library with a total of over 1,600 additional sounds. These sounds are of course playable for everyone without the respective hardware counterpart - but then of course without the great hardware integration.

Integration assistant. But how exactly does it work now? Well, Spectrasonics has simply made an individual mapping of its user interface for each supported hardware synth and created it in the form of its own profile. The latter can then be easily and conveniently selected in Omnisphere for the appropriate hardware using the drop-down menu. Each profile is therefore adapted to the individual hardware equipment of the respective synth and assigns the existing hardware control elements as sensibly as possible to Omnispheres software parameters. So z. B. the filter potentiometer on the synth always sets the cutoff of Omnisphere, or a turn of the attack potentiometer of the volume envelope on the hardware controls exactly this parameter in the soft synth, etc. Fortunately, the profiles can also be customized. So if some predefined assignments do not fit into your own setup, the respective parameters can also be "unlearned" as before and then linked again. Of course, the changed profile can then be saved under a different name.

With all the different concepts of the various hardware synth models and manufacturers, there are of course differences in their equipment and thus in the number of parameters that can be remotely controlled. However, instruments were selected with the supported synths that also offer a decent number of hardware controllers and can thus dock to Omnisphere in a meaningful way. Inevitably, there will always be gaps, because Omnisphere has a total of over 20,000 parameters available - even a synthesizer bolide similar to a spaceship command bridge cannot address these completely.

If you now select a synth for the hardware integration in Omnisphere, a dialog appears offering help with the setup, which can be useful for an initial setup. Because depending on the selected hardware synthesizer, some settings have to be made to get everything to work - if everything is not already set appropriately anyway. If you accept this help, you will be taken directly to the exemplary help page of the selected model and guided in detail through the process that is necessary for the respective synth. It really doesn't get any easier than that. Unscrewed: let's focus on the practical side. My two older sweethearts Nord Lead 1 and the Virus C Rack can serve as hardware. The setup was easy on both synths. Since I integrated them into the studio anyway, everything was already configured as required and worked straight away without having to change the settings. After selecting the hardware synth profile, Omnispheres Patch Browser automatically changes to the directory of the hardware synth library and jumps to the first of the matching patches for the selected hardware, so that you can start immediately with the right sounds for the selected model. Bam!

And what can I say - it works great and is really great fun! There are no unusual latencies with either of my synths, and the hardware integration is really good. As soon as you move a potentiometer, Omnisphere automatically jumps to the appropriate area of ​​the GUI in which the corresponding parameter is located. In this way, what is currently happening haptically can be seen directly visually. This is very practical and nicely done.

Depending on the instrument, however, due to the lack of a sensible allocation option, a few hardware elements often fall through the grid, which then have no function with Omnisphere. However, these can of course be assigned according to your own ideas.

The only downer, however, is the unidirectional connection. In other words: Communication only goes in one direction, from the hardware to the software. If you now select a different sound in Omnisphere, this will not be acknowledged on the synth with updated LEDs or even potentiometer / encoder values ​​of the new Omnisphere preset. Accordingly, parameter jumps are preprogrammed here, unless the hardware is manually pre-set to the values ​​of the respective sound. This is of course only possible to a limited extent in a live situation, but without motorized potentiometers or encoders, which are not available in most hardware synths anyway, the dilemma cannot be solved anyway. Personally, I don't think it's too big a problem, because the positive effects of the connection definitely outweigh the rest. At this point in time, Spectrasonics couldn't say whether bidirectional communication will be integrated in the future, because that wasn't even planned from the start.

Apart from that, operating the pots and buttons of the Nord Lead while editing the hardware synth library sounds delivers the expected sound results if you know the Nord Lead. With the latter, there is a classic surface of a synth that has been reduced to the bare essentials of subtractive synthesis, with little exotic. The lavishly equipped control panel of the Virus C offers a little more control options and at the same time has the surprise that predefined parameters of the Omnisphere effects can also be controlled naturally and directly via the effect potentiometers of the Virus. Very convenient.

And the amazing thing is: At some point you actually often forget that you are working on a soft synth and the sounds are not coming from the hardware itself. The impression is of course created a little by the appropriate sound aesthetics of the hardware synth library, but much more by the experience of playing a soft synth with the convenience of direct parameter access of a familiar hardware synth. You shouldn't expect the sounds of the hardware synth library to be on par with the hardware models. I don't think they want to be that either, because the hardware for that is immediately available. The sounds are a nice addition and, if you will, a tribute library for the respective synths, which can be played very well and bent to extremes. With these sounds, Omnisphere plays out the strengths of its internal synthesis options, the sound character of which is tailored to the selected hardware counterpart, and the modulation options are perfectly matched to its hardware situation
off - and the result is sometimes very impressive.

But how does the hardware synth integration work with the normal sounds from the standard Omnisphere library, i.e. all sounds outside the new hardware synth library? The correct answer can only be: It depends. Namely, which hardware you have under your fingers and which parameters the currently loaded Omnisphere sound has to offer that fit the selected hardware profile. But the good news is that the hardware integration remains unchanged and can therefore continue to be used in principle. If the currently selected sound is e.g. If, for example, no FM is used, when the FM potentiometer is turned, Omnispheres FM is switched on and the value is then set. But is there z. If, for example, there is only one oscillator in the patch, turning the OSC2 potentiometer has no effect.

The trick is that Trilian and Keyscape can also be subjected to the hardware integration via a detour. If these are loaded as satellites in Omnisphere, a controller movement of the hardware immediately switches the surface of the satellite to that of Omnisphere. This creates the same situation as for all other standard library sounds in Omnisphere, and you can also tweak these sounds as you like. Gorgeous!


With the hardware synth integration, Spectrasonics has taken the right path to be able to play their already great sounding software synth now also great. The hardware synth library is a nice goodie, which impressively demonstrates what a perfect interlocking of software and hardware can look like. However, in my opinion there is more to this. Using a hardware controller to control a soft synth is a fine thing, if not really new. But it is actually an astonishingly big step forward when a real and, above all, familiar hardware synthesizer surface is available to control a software synthesizer. The parameters can then be controlled intuitively and comfortably, and suddenly it actually feels like a real hardware instrument that you are playing.

Whether you want to take your notebook with you on stage and expose it to the dangers of system crashes, roadies or sometimes not sober bandmates, it is up to every keyboard player to take risks. In my opinion the adventure would be worth it. But it's definitely worth it in the studio, and you almost ask yourself why someone only now came up with the idea of ​​interlinking soft synths with well-known hardware synthesizers. As simple as the idea is, the result is so incredibly effective that I wouldn't want to be without it from now on.

Manufacturer: Spectrasonics
Prices: Full version: 399 euros Upgrade: 199 euros
Internet: www.spectrasonics.net

Our opinion:
+++ detailed and individual integration of over 60 hardware synth surfaces
+++ direct access to the most important Omnisphere parameters
++ Hardware synth library with approx. 1,600 sounds
++ Keyscape and Trilian can also be controlled to a limited extent as satellites
- - one-way communication

Keywords: software, tests

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