Review: Max for Cats, Feline Synthesis for Ableton Live 9

If you're not intrigued by the title then really, what are you doing on the internet? ;-) Max for Cats brings Christian Kleine's Max for Live skills to two unique instruments for Live 9 users.  

Longstanding Max for Live developer Christian Kleine launches his new line of Max for Cats devices with aplomb, mining his notoriously extensive knowledge of synthesis to create a pair of stunning virtual instruments with impressively divergent results.

DiGiTAL in action, with sequencer breakout panel visible.

DiGiTAL in action, with sequencer breakout panel visible.

DiGiTAL

Incorporating elements of wavetable, FM, additive, and subtractive synthesis, DiGiTAL's two oscillators put a wealth of inspiring options at your fingertips.

Each Oscillator can be drawn with the mouse in the central four boxes of the interface; each line represents the mathematical equivalent of a sine wave partial, and the resulting waveform changes both audibly and visually (in the handy display at left) in real time. Basic waveforms such as sine and sawtooth are available by clicking above the wave display. For instant sound design fun, click Rand for a randomly generated waveform. Each oscillator can also be interpreted through a Wavetable Envelope—a basic ADSR that governs how the wave is read and played back, with noticeably musical results.

A fantastic sounding “Linear Trapezoidal Integrated State Variable Filter With Low Noise Optimization” comes with four standard modes: Low, High and Band Pass, plus Notch—along with a very handy Mix amount to blend it in parallel with the original signal. Four more ADSR envelopes control Amplitude, Filter, and Pitch, while a freely assignable Modulation envelope can be applied to multiple parameters—along with the two host-syncable LFOs.

Above the output meter on the far right is a reveal button that gives access to: the Modulation Matrix; an FX section that includes an impressively dynamic EQ and three-mode Chorus; a Sub/FM section with detune-able Sub oscillator, frequency modulation options, and a harmonic Saturation control; a sixteen-step sequencer with separate Note, Velocity, Length and assignable Control parameters plus a number of playback modes; and the System area that controls the Interpolation model and settings, polyphony, stereo spread, pitch bend, stepped glissando and a peak limiter. This is also where the real-time oscilloscope shows up if you click the small wave icon just above the envelope section.

Ensemble

Ensemble's handsome layout.

Ensemble's handsome layout.



Including a uniquely programmable formant filter section, 3-phase chorus and classic phaser, Ensemble is based on classic 1970s string synths. Early electronic soundtracks and iconic disco stabs are clearly in its sights and it hits them square on.

After taking a moment to load voices, we're treated to a dual mode combination of two oscillators, which can be ran as triangle or rectangular waves, each of which can occupy its own octave range – while the second can be tuned in semitones. When using the rectangular waveform, a Tone dial controls the pulse width, which has its own dedicated LFO. Noise can be added to taste, and a simple ADSR envelope controls the amplitude. Lush string pads and sharp stabs are good to go already.

Where Ensemble excels is with its unique Formant Filter. With ten vowel shapes to choose from, you can morph through them over time by clicking the box above the vowel morph area; now you can draw shapes via breakpoints that carry through the different formant vowels over a course of time between zero and ten seconds; the vertical axis controls which vowel is selected while the horizontal axis determines when they play back in the cycle. The Slew amount controls the smoothness of the transitions between the vowels. For maximum control without the vowel morphing enabled, simply assign the vowel selector to an Instrument Rack Macro or MIDI controller.

 A classic Phaser and three-stage Chorus—handily included as standalone audio effects—emphasize the vintage credentials. A built-in EQ and spread options help sculpt the final output, along with a PreAmp level (adjusting output after the vowel filter but before the Phaser and Chorus), Gain, Saturation to add harmonics, Portamento, and a Vibrato with optional aftertouch control.

The Cat's Meow

The combination of these two unique instruments allows for a wide range of sonic exploration—though Ensemble is admittedly more limited by design. If I had to choose one, the sheer versatility of DiGiTAL's expansive synthesis capabilities would probably trump the comparatively niche results of Ensemble, but at this price, it's hard not to recommend both.

Price: €29 each

Pros: Great sound, easy to use, inspiring results.

Cons: Info View integration not currently working.

Webhttp://maxforcats.com


Noah Pred is a Canadian techno and house producer, DJ and Certified Ableton Trainer living in Berlin, Germany - where he runs his label, Thoughtless Music. His Juno-nominated full-length album Third Culture, is out now: http://www.thoughtlessmusic.com/releases/tlm086-noah-pred-third-culture/ - and you can check out his new project with... Read More

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