If you are a Pro Tools-based synthesist, you may have seen the Vacuum Pro before. This is due to the fact that this instrument has, up until now, been a Pro Tools-only synth. Vacuum Pro has now been released into the wild, with a substantial number of enhancements, Vacuum Pro is now available as AU/VST and RTAS.
With this new synth out and about and available to the majority of users, we thought it would be worth taking a closer look to determine whether or not it can stand out in an already crowded world of virtual analogue synthesizers.
The Vacuum Pro Concept
Vacuum Pro is a virtual analogue, subtractive synthesizer with two oscillators, two filters, plenty of modulation options and handful of very useable effects. This may not sound so different from pretty much every virtual analogue soft synth out there, but it has got a few tricks up its sleeve that separate it from the crowd.
The main thing to know about Vacuum Pro is that is packs no less than six virtual valve stages. This effectively gives Vacuum Pro its individual sound, what I can tell you is that in real world situations, it certainly gives you a boat load of crunch to play with!
The Vacuum Pro’s main interface.
There are also other unique features such as true ‘dual-layer’ operation and an interesting method for randomizing your entire patch or just sections of it. Let’s break the instrument down into its individual components and see if it’s more than the sum of its parts.
First up, let’s take a look at the sound sources available in Vacuum Pro. This is a two-oscillator synth and the noise generator is located at the left stage of oscillator 2 "Shape" knob. Furthermore, oscialltor 2 allows morphing from Noise into Saw, Square and Pulse waves.
Each oscillator can be swept (using a continuos control) from triangle/sine wave, through a harsher saw, all the way to a pulse width modulated square. I do like this continuous control because you are able to morph between each waveform type and even get combinations of the different modes.
The two oscillators and mixer section.
Each oscillator has the obvious tuning functions but there are a few features that are slightly more unexpected. For instance there is a ‘Quad’ mode which allows you to add almost Supersaw like effects, this has a dedicated de-tune amount. There is also a cool delay function which allows you to add some pretty intense delayed harmonics to your patches.
You will also a notice what appears to be a tube stage in each oscillator that glows at various intensities depending on which waveform you choose. Although there are no dedicated controls for these tubes, I’m assuming that they simply add a little crunch to proceedings.
The Oscillators sound rather meaty in isolation, the saws are suitably ‘buzzy’ and the pulse width action is pretty satisfying. When tuned correctly, there is also plenty of low frequency to be heard. They can all be mixed, treated with a ring modulator and fed through their own tube stage.
Let’s take a look at what happens when we feed these sources through some additional filters and yep you guess it... more tubes.
Filters And Tubes
When it comes to any subtractive synth one of the most important aspects (to many people) is the filter section. The Vacuum Pro features two independent filters: a high pass/band pass model and a dedicated low pass. These are in two distinct sections which is quite nice as it clearly defines the role of each filter.
The two filters can also interact in various modes with parallel, series and complex routings all on offer. Slopes can also be altered to induce varying degrees of intensity as you sweep through the frequency range.
The filter section with two tube stages.
How do they sound you ask? Well on the most part pretty good, for me they could have been a little more intense and perhaps slightly warmer in nature. Although they sound good to me, they are quite clean and the resonance a little tame.
This said, both filters have their own tube stage with variable drive parameters so extra character is easily introduced via this route. With both drives dialed to healthy amounts, some pretty serious distortion is possible and the effect is distinctly analogue in nature.
There are a number of ways to modulate your patches within Vacuum Pro, amongst them are four dedicated envelopes: one for the amp, two for the filters and an extra one for modulation. These are all feature rich and have good amount of control and flexibility.
Although some of the modulation system is hardwired (as described above), you can route things like external performance controllers, LFOs and the fourth envelope to various sources using the handy ‘Mod’ section, which is essentially a very accessible modulation matrix.
The envelopes and mod section.
All in all, I found the modulation capabilities of Vacuum Pro to be present and correct. It would have been nice to get a little more flexibility when it comes to routing sources and destinations, but I didn’t really find myself terribly limited at any point.
Dual Layers, Effects And More
Where Vacuum Pro really shines is in its list of ‘extra’ features. Take for example the fact this synth is in fact two synths! You could call it Bi-Timbral or Dual Layer, but in reality Vacuum Pro contains two identical synth engines that can be played independently, in isolation or in unison. This is a great touch and gives the user the ability to create monster layered patches.
The Vacuum Pro’s true Dual Layer operation is a very powerful feature.
There is also a substantial multi-effects section, vintage emulation controls, stereo width enhancement, and of course the obligatory glide functions. Add to this a simple but effective arpeggiator and you have a seriously powerful instrument on your hands.
One other feature worth mentioning is the ability to randomize entire patches or just sections of your patch. You are actually able to lock down specific areas of the synth such as the filter, LFOs or envelopes and randomize the remaining parameters. This is great for generating instant variations to sounds you are working on.
Conclusion And Summing Up
After spending a good amount of time with Vacuum Pro, I can honestly say I really like this synth. I’ll continue to use it and explore its hidden depths. There are things missing I would have like to have seen, such as a slightly more flexible modulation system and controls to brighten up the sound, in the form of EQ or enhancement, but perhaps I am splitting hairs.
One thing to note finally is that this is a 64-bit only plug-in. I failed to notice this at the start of my review process and failed to pick it up in a 32-bit version of Logic Pro. Perhaps a 32-bit version of the plug-in would be nice for those that need it, then again this may be seen as a step backwards by some? My advice would be to check out Vacuum Pro yourself and the sounds it can create. If you do nothing else, crank those virtual tubes and make some of your own nasty, distorted bass patches!