Vir2’s Acou6tics was reviewed in the September 2014 issue of Sound On Sound Magazine. Find the full article below.
Having done electric guitars, Vir2 turn their attention to acoustics, but the inexplicable ‘6’ remains intact…
When it comes to the recording of music, sample-library companies and their increasingly sophisticated virtual instruments are set on world domination. Soon, only keyboard players will be left (OK, maybe singers as well, but they won’t necessarily have to be very good ones) as the rest of the band or orchestra are recreated in virtual form. Vir2 are part of the plot and having targeted the electric guitar player with Electri6ity back in 2010, they now have acoustic guitar players in their sights. While I shouldn’t be hypocritical (I use BFD and Superior Drummer for almost all my acoustic drum needs), as a guitar player I was left pretty much open-mouthed by what a keyboard-playing friend could coax out of Electri6ity. So does the arrival of Acou6tics mean I should be worried that, in the studio at least, my guitar-playing skills are now completely redundant? Let’s find out…
Nick Magnus gave Electri6ity a big thumbs up back in the September 2010 issue of SOS. Nick’s two reservations were simply that the library could be quite resource hungry and that learning your way around the various keyswitches did take some time. If you have not heard what Electri6ity can do, though, do check out the demos on the Vir2 web site; in the right hands, it is scarily good. Vir2 are now back with the acoustic equivalent. In Acou6tics, the six- and 12-string steel, nylon strung, ukulele, mandolin and guitalele all get the mega-sampling treatment; there is over 12GB of sample data, between 4,000 and 8,000 samples per instrument, an impressive range of performance articulations, finger-picked and plectrum options where appropriate, and stereo miking plus piezo DI options.
Out Of The Case
Large download aside, installation and authorization proved painless and the structure of the library within Kontakt (either the free Player version or the full version) is simple. You get three versions of each instrument: a ‘full’ version that contains all the articulation and performance options and uses the intelligent voicing built into the engine; a ‘General MIDI’ version that includes various articulations but where the voicing of notes/chords simply reflects where you play on your piano keyboard; and a ‘string by MIDI channel’ version where each string responds to a different MIDI channel and which would, I suspect, suit some MIDI guitar controllers. Of the six acoustic instruments in Acou6tics, the steel-strung, nylon-strung, ukulele and guitalele are supplied in two versions each (all are finger picked but you also get either plectrum or a fingernail-picked version of each) so there are actually 10 presets within each of the three categories mentioned above. Given the number of articulations available in each, these are pretty hefty but there are, of course, plenty of ways to lighten the load while tracking (for example, just using one mic channel, adjusting the DFD buffer) even if you then give Acou6tics full reign when you come to render your final mix. All the instruments were recorded using a stereo mic configuration in a fairly dry space and with an additional piezo channel. Articulations — which are available on all strings and all frets — include sustained notes with up/down and finger/thumb/pick/nail pick, muted, legato (hammer-on/pull-off), slides (up and down by one and two frets plus slides into notes), release noises, chucka-chuckas (muted strummed chords), harmonics and various effects (pick noises, body knocks, slaps, for example). In terms of the sampling itself, this is detailed stuff.
Acou6tics includes flexible microphone and effects options to tailor the sound of each instrument.
As with a top-notch orchestral sample library, all these keyswitched performance articulations require some learning to use effectively. However, there is obviously some very clever scripting going on inside the Acou6tics/Kontakt engine because, in use, certain performance elements are applied in an automatic and intelligent fashion. There are numerous facets to this but a couple of examples of the Acou6tics approach to strummed chords will illustrate the point. Acou6tics features an advanced chord-detection algorithm and, when multiple notes are received simultaneously (and you can configure the time frame for this), they are automatically played as a single strum. And if you play the chord a number of times, Acou6tics will, by default, alternate between downward and upward strums. If you don’t want to get involved with lots of keyswitches and trigger keys for finer strumming control, Acou6tics will deliver a perfectly reasonable strummed performance from basic chords played on your keyboard.
The second element that helps here is the database of some 25,000 chord shapes. Whatever voicing you play on your piano keyboard, you will get an appropriate guitar voicing back from the library. Rather wonderfully, when you play the same chord further up the piano keyboard, Acou6tics will choose a voicing/fingering that mimics that further up the guitar neck. What’s more, the default settings for all these types of detailed features can be adjusted or overridden though various controls and settings options within the custom Kontakt front-end. There are all sorts of other elements to the overall sound that help provide a convincing performance. For example, the engine will add elements of pick, fret and finger noise to the performance. It also can simulate the slightly ‘duff’ chords that occur at chord transitions when a guitar player moves between two chord shapes. The physical resonance of the instrument is also emulated and you can, of course, blend in the two mics, the piezo channel and some room ambience if required. Again, all these elements can be dialed in or out to taste. There is also a very efficient system for creating double-tracked performances; this works brilliantly and ensures identical samples never appear in both ‘left’ and ‘right’ guitars at the same time.
There are nearly 25,000 chord shapes stored in the chord database. Users can select those they would like Acou6tics to use if they want to restrict the choices made by the library.
While the Acou6tics engine takes some of the heavy lifting out of using the various performance options, if you want to fully exploit the library, the combination of banks, keyswitches and trigger keys requires some exploration. By default, each instrument offers six banks. A bank can be thought of as a keyboard and sample configuration where the layout of the various keyswitches (that is, keys that control the performance and articulations rather than the actual notes or chords played) and ‘play range’ (the keys where you can trigger actual notes or chords) is defined. So, for example, Bank 1 provides a polyphonic mode with the maximum number of MIDI keys allocated to the play range (and hence fewer keys allocated to keyswitches or other performance options) while Bank 3 also provides a polyphonic mode but has a reduced play range to make room for keys to trigger picking within chords and sliding. Switching between these different banks is done via keyswitches laid out on notes C0 to F0. Within a particular bank, other keyswitch zones provide access to performance options so, for example, G0 provides a normal sustained note while A#0 can provide a slide into a note.
Other keyswitches, however, are described as trigger keys, and there are a good number of these. For example, a series of strum triggers provide options for full chords (all six strings) and various smaller voicings (for example, upper strings or lower strings only) and, in each case, downstrokes and upstrokes are provided. Whatever chord is played within the play range keys you can, therefore, create a strumming pattern based upon just playing these trigger keys. Picking is just as well served; the picking trigger keys simply allow you to simulate picking individual strings of any chord voiced within the play range. This works very well and, as elsewhere, you can dip into the settings to adjust exactly has this behavior operates. It’s all very flexible and very powerful. One final technical comment; with all these options for keyswitches (and the ability to create your own custom keyswitch layouts if you wish), you really don’t want to try and use Acou6tics with a 25-key MIDI controller keyboard; even with my 88-note keyboard I was occasionally reaching for the octave transpose button.
Hearing Is Believing
If you want to edit the behavior of Acou6tics then there are almost endless options and you can even define your own keyswitch layouts.
In exploring the various performance options, I focused my own experimentation on the steel-strung and nylon-strung guitars as these would be the instruments I would probably use most often. Legato playing is relatively straightforward and the only real challenge here is finding your way around the various performance articulations to you can add the appropriate slides, mutes and vibrato to create something believable. For slower melodic lines, this is not such a challenge, but if you are looking to play faster passages, then a little more practice is required. The same is true for strumming or picking chords; at slower tempos it is actually very easy, but if you want to get into something a bit more energetic, even with the impressive AI features, there is some keyboard practice required. Fortunately, in a sequencing context (as opposed to playing Acou6tics live), you can always build things up in multiple passes and via some MIDI editing.
A very pleasant surprise is how well these keyboard-based playing techniques then translated to the other instruments in the Acou6tics collection. They all sound great but, because the performance options are generally very consistent between the instruments, once I’d got to grips with picking or strumming on the steel- and nylon-strung guitars, I could bring those same techniques to the mandolin and ukulele. I don’t own a mandolin, so Acou6tics plugs that gap. However, I do own a ukulele. Frankly, for the odd occasion I need that instrument, the sound I can now get from Acou6tics, given a little practice, leaves my own uke dead in the water. Indeed, for basic playing techniques —which don’t take that long to get to grips with — I think this statement applies to all the Acou6tics instruments. They sound fabulous and, just as with the best of the virtual drummer instruments now available, you would have to try very hard in your average project studio to match the fidelity produced by Acou6tics once you had mastered the performance side of the instrument.
So will Acou6tics have me selling my modest acoustic guitar collection? Well, maybe not quite yet but, providing you put in the effort to learn the interface so you can squeeze the best out of the performance options, Acou6tics is capable of some breathtaking results. This library/virtual instrument is cheaper than even a half-decent acoustic guitar, let alone the multiple acoustic instruments included and the sits required to record them. In the right hands, Acou6tics could do for guitar players what BFD3 or Superior Drummer 2 has done for drummers — that is, for some music producers, make them superfluous. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not is another matter but, whatever your take on virtual versus real, Acou6tics is hugely impressive and I’m sure composers and music producers of all genres will buy it by the bucketload. Right, I’m off to sit in front of my keyboard and practice my (virtual) guitar playing…
In the latest issue of MusicTech Magazine, Acou6tics earned a 9/10 score and won the MT Choice and Innovation awards! Check out the full review here: http://bit.ly/Acou6ticsMTReview
My Name is Benjamin Stelzer, I am the lead developer of Acou6tics and Electri6ity and I’d like to take you on a behind-the-scenes tour and give you some insight on the development of our newest virtual acoustic guitar library.
Maybe you’ve already heard of Electri6ity, which is our award winning electric guitar library. The reason why I’m also talking about Electri6ity in this blog – just in case you were wondering – is that Acou6tics is meant to follow in the footsteps of this critically acclaimed library, using the same advanced technologies only to re-imagining the acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar this time.
After releasing Electri6ity, the library quickly became very popular and we’ve got so much feedback from customers on it and even more request to create an acoustic version of this library using the same technology. So when we started to plan Acou6tics we first sat down, took all the feedback, the feature request and read through almost all the discussions on the internet about Electri6ity to get a feeling on what would be the perfect acoustic guitar library. Doing this, it quickly became clear on what we had to lay our focus on:
1. Recording & Tone
3. Ease of use
4. Chords & Strumming
1. Recording & Tone
When we did the first recording tests we spent almost a month, only testing different microphones, micing techniques with various guitars. We tested traditional micing techniques like AB-stereo micing, XY-stereo micing, M/S-stereo micing, but we also tried mics inside the body of the guitars and various types of transducers. We tried different mic characteristics, (omni, cardioid, hyper-cardioid), different micing distances, different rooms and different room treatments – all to get the idea of an ideal acoustic guitar tone for a perfect acoustic guitar library.
You need to know, that this is something completely different compared to recording a live acoustic guitar part for a particular song, because in that case you only need to find a tone which fits this one song. An acoustic guitar library will be used in a lot of different songs and music styles later and ideally it needs to fit all of them all equally!
What we came up with in the end, was much simpler than our initial tests, but tone wise it was the most versatile recording setup, which perfectly captured the natural tone of all the guitars:
We recorded the guitars in Blumlein-stereo using two large condenser mics in a room which was treated in a way that is was almost completely dead, except for some carefully placed diffusers. This technique has a lot of benefits: it’s fully mono compatible, the mics used have figure 8 characteristics, which sounds much more natural than cardioid, the stereo image is excellent and the samples are very dry. Additionally we also recorded the piezo output of all instruments.
The realism of a virtual instruments depends on two factors: First of all, the important articulations, noises and nuances need to be captured in the recording process. And the second factor is an engine which plays back the samples in a way that resembles what a real player would do when playing that instrument. Our experience with Electri6ity, which also was samples extensively, already gave us a pretty good idea of what we had to record and how we had to record it.
But we also wanted to push the playback engine to a new level in terms of realism. So we spent weeks analyzing different playing techniques and nuances of a real guitar and figuring out ways, how to implement them into the engine. In the end we had a completely new sympathetic resonance engine, a physical modeling based approach for the pick position simulation, a completely new strum engine, a new chord detection engine – pretty much everything was completely rewritten from scratch.
3. Ease of use
Here the feedback we got on Electri6ity was very helpful. We went through all the critiques and all the improvement requests to figure out how it would be possible, to offer the same flexibility and control the Electri6ity engine offered, but much easier to use. The Acou6tics GUI is very easy to handle and easy to understand, the instruments load pretty fast and the memory usage is very reasonable.
4. Chords & Strumming
We are especially proud of our new chord & strumming engine. The chord library contains up to 25,000 guitar chords per instrument. This means that for almost every chord you are playing on your keyboard, the engine will instantly find the correct guitar voicing for that chord! But not only that, Acou6tics also allows you to learn user chords with only one knob. Whenever you play a certain chord on the keyboard, the guitar voicing you’ve learned for that chord is selected – and you can choose from up to 50 different guitar voicings for each chord.
The new strumming engine has a lot of humanization build and allows you to play realistic strum patterns in no time. We’ve even added transition strums, which are strums that often occur on a real guitar between two chords, since your finger will need time to finger the new chord on the fretboard. That added quite a bit of realism, since those transition strums are so audible and recognizable on a real guitar.
Acou6tics can be adjusted to exactly fit your needs! You don’t like the default keyswitch layout? No problem. You can simply customize it.
You don’t like the default setup of the instrument? No problem. You can customize it.
Almost every aspect of the playback engine can be customized and automated if necessary!
I hope you enjoyed this insight into the development of Acou6tics.
For more information and demos visit the Acou6tics page.
Vir2 Development Team
Following in the footsteps of Vir2 Instruments’ award-winning Electri6ity electric guitar virtual instrument, Acou6tics applies the same advanced technologies to re-imagine the virtual acoustic guitar. Vir2 has meticulously recorded six different acoustic instruments: a steel-string guitar, twelve-string, nylon string, ukulele, mandolin, and guitalele, and presents them in astonishing detail. It features both plectrum and finger picking, and Blumlein stereo recordings alongside the piezo pickup perspective. Thousands of samples across more than a dozen articulations were recorded for each instrument, including sustains, mutes, releases, legatos, hammer-ons and pull-offs, slides, harmonics, and effects. Acou6tics also features virtual room control with adjustable mic distance and sympathetic resonance.
Acou6tics is powered by the industry-leading Kontakt engine. It is compatible with VST, RTAS (Pro Tools 9 & 10), and AAX (Pro Tools 10 & 11) plug-in formats allowing it to work seamlessly within any major sequencer, in addition to standalone use.
The Acou6tics interface is very easy to navigate. There are four main pages: Playback, Keyswitches, Chords, and Mics & FX.