While many software developers release new products on a regular basis, US virtual instrument artisans Spectrasonics takes a ‘less is more’ approach. That’s why, at Superbooth 2018, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that it had brought a new 2.5 update to its big-boy power synth Omnisphere, which genuinely appears to put a new spin on the hardware/software controller paradigm.
The new feature, Hardware Synth Integration, lets you control the Omnisphere software with one of a number of hardware synthesisers, one or more of which you may already own. Spectrasonics has created a whole bunch of profiles for popular hardware synths, ranging from high-end classics from the likes of Moog and Dave Smith/Sequential through to more entry-level instruments such as the Korg Minilogue, Novation Bass Station II and Roland Boutique range (Spectrasonics tells us that more synth ‘profiles’ are on the way). Select your MIDI-connected synth from Omnisphere 2.5’s top drop-down menu and away you go.
This isn’t just regular MIDI mapping, however. Omnisphere calls up specially-designed patches and loads up relevant oscillator waveforms - many designed specifically for this update - that broadly emulate the synth in question. The virtual instrument also adapts its ‘under the hood’ assignments, macro style, to the synth you’re using: a single synth knob or slider may influence the movement of many different Omnisphere parameters to achieve the sonic effect heard on the original hardware.
On the Superbooth show floor, after hooking up Omnisphere to several of their outboard synths, we were genuinely impressed at how seamless the whole process is. Controlling Omnisphere with a Moog Sub 37 was as easy as programming the real thing. The Roland Boutiques each made Omnisphere output patches that made sense for each individual synth. It’s a slightly odd experience: you have to remind yourself that you’re not actually hearing the hardware as you play it.
But then, an obvious question arose: why would you need to use a hardware synth to control Omnisphere as it emulates the same hardware synth you already own? Why not just use the hardware synth? Spectrasonics points out that these ‘emulation’ waveforms and parameter assignments are only starting points, and although you can’t set up or customise your own MIDI profiles (which is a shame), it’s still a powerful way to get hands on with the software - and then go further. Plus, thanks to the flexibility of software, you can run multiple instances of Omnisphere in a single project.