Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 Review
I’m willing to bet Omnisphere v2 is the only synthesizer on Earth to use rice, glass, and rain in its signal chain. If that sentence made you scratch you’re head – continue reading, I’ll all make sense before long.
INTRODUCING OMNISPHERE v2
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t all too excited about the release of Omnisphere v2. All my music buddies were up in arms like they had been waiting their whole lives for this moment. At the time, I couldn’t care less.I already owned Omnisphere v1.5 and wrongfully figured Omnisphere v2 would simply be a few new tweaks and patches. Whatever the updates, I certainly didn’t think they warranted the $230 upgrade price. Needless to say, I was wrong. And as it turns out, Omnisphere v2 is quite possibly the greatest software synth of all time. So, before I lose you with my vast claims, let’s dig a little deeper.
After spending several hours downloading the update, the first thing I noticed was everything looked the same. The interface is a bit wider thanks to the improved browser; otherwise, it feels exactly like the Omni layout we’ve come to love.
The browser update is one of those things you didn’t know you needed. And now that Omnisphere has added thousands of new patches and Soundsources, I couldn’t imagine life without it. The update primarily consists of a new mini-browser and a function called Sound Match, both of which have tremendously improved the plug-in’s workflow. The notion of a mini-browser is self-explanatory, but when it comes to Sound Match, maybe not so much. Essentially, Sound Match sorts through the vast library and sends back patches that are comparable to the one it’s enacted on.
Sound Lock is another cool new feature. When patch-surfing, you can choose certain parameters you like from any given sound and have those exact setting transferred to any other patch you choose. And even cooler, with the new “progressive loading” implementation, we no longer have to wait for those heavier patches to fully load. In other words, users can start playing as soon as a patch is selected!
Speaking of patches, Omnisphere v2 has blessed us with over 4,000 new sounds. This brings the grand total of the patch bank to well over 12,000. I owned Omni v1.5 for over three-years before buying v2 and had already done that “thing” all synth geeks do where we spent far too many hours toying with new patches. After downloading Omni v2 I found myself once again being caught up in the euphoria of discovering new sounds. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say one could easily spend years goofing around with the patches without getting bored.
Spectrasonics smartly decided to isolate the new additions from the existing sounds. Omnisphere’s gigantic patch bank was already beloved by composers for its labyrinth of dark, ever-evolving textures – a category that has been greatly expounded upon in v2. Spectrasonics also added a host of brand new acoustic instruments, worldly Soundscorces, and recreated patches from some beloved old-school synths. The selection of patches targeting EDM producers, however, seems to have gotten the most attention. A hearty collection of heavenly leads, weighty basses, and twinkling ARPs make up a sizeable portion of the new additions.
Every patch in the upgrade is powered by Omnisphere’s greatly improved synth engine. Like the older version, each sound is made up of two layers. Now, however, each layer can be sample-based or derived from one of the 400+ wavetables offered in v2. Once layers A and B are filled with a wavetable or sample, the process of synthesis begins.
When programming my own patches I usually start by sending one or both of the layers through Unison, Harmonia or Granular. Unison and Harmonia remain pretty much untouched, Granular mode, however, has been improved. On the surface, everything looks the same. But once you peek behind the curtain you’ll see all the cool new things it can do. Perhaps the most impressive (and long awaited) upgrade is the ability to upload custom samples.
After several hours of playing with custom samples in the Granular panel, I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed with the results. In retrospect, I believe my disappointment stems from expecting things to be “easier”. In other words, while it’s very trivial to come up with wacky/interesting sounds, creating something that’s musical, e.g. actually useable, is as involved as creating an interesting patch from any other source. For some reason, I was expecting something “magical”. With that said, I defiantly see this feature being heavily exploited by sound designers in the film and video game industry.
When it comes to effects, I think the new additions will be beloved by everyone, regardless of genre or industry. Version 2 is packed with roughly 60 effects engines, 25 of which are new. The new effects units are loaded with enough features to warrant a separate review, but in the interest of time, I’ll highlight only a few of my favorites.
The aptly named “Thiftshop Speakers” effect often finds a spot on my effects rack. This unit is designed to emulate the grungy tones produced by cheap amplifiers and tube radios. I’ve been able to get some very interesting sounds with this nifty unit. Another super cool unit is “Innerspace”. If you have a good memory, you’ll recall talk of signal chains involving rice, glass, and rain. Well, I was talking about “Innerspace”, Spectrasonics’ innovative implementation of a convolution reverb. The secret behind Innerspace is its unique impulse responses, which are made from eccentric sounds such as pills being dropped in a glass, crushed sugar grains, streams, rainstorms, and the sound of dry rice being poured.
Believe it or not, I found Omnisphere v2 to be better than some of the hardware synths in my collection. I’m more than satisfied with my purchase; I believe my $230 was well spent. Perhaps, what I’m even happier about is Spectrasonics didn’t do anything in the upgrade that harmed backward compatibility. All of my old Omnisphere v1.5 productions worked flawlessly with v2. My fears of unforeseen complications were unwarranted.
All in all the improvements made to the granular and wavetable engines make designing patches even more fun and intuitive. And when you’re not in the mood to create from scratch, using Sound Match and Sound Lock always lead to interesting creations. The strategic use of these two features can greatly expand the already massive preset library since each sound is practically brand new.