Hands-On Review:The MOTU MachFive Virtual Sampler
The MOTU MachFive Virtual Sampler
A brilliant one-box solution to sampling
By Joe Gerstner
Over the past few years a number of software samplers have entered the marketplace to less than stellar reviews. Aside from being riddled with bugs, they suffered from limited compatibility and their interfaces were often far from intuitive; in fact a couple of the applications I checked out were downright mystifying.
When Musician's Friend asked me to assess MOTU's new MachFive, I accepted with alacrity. As a long-time Digital Performer devotee, I was intrigued to see what the MOTU software engineers had concocted. After having spent the past month working with MachFive, I'm happy to report that they've created a winning combination of compatibility and user-friendliness that has redefined my expectations for virtual sampling.
Needles in a haystack
If you've spent hours trying to find sounds you've stashed in obscurely named and categorized folders on your drives, you'll appreciate MachFive's ability to always remember where those files are. It zooms through multi-gigabyte libraries making browsing and loading libraries a pleasure rather than a chore. Rather than spending countless hours playing sound bank librarian, MachFive lets you focus on your music.
As a true plug-in, you save your projects in your host software and all your MachFive-based work is saved right with it. And because of its single-window GUI (more on that later), you can scope out all your editing and performance parameters at a glance. As a plug-in, MachFive also optimizes your CPU usage; something my heavily overloaded Mac G4 appreciates.
If you collaborate with others who work within other platforms and applications, you'll find MachFive is a godsend. It supports every significant audio production platform for Mac and Windows including MAS, VST, Audio Units, HTDM, RTAS, and DXi. I recently collaborated on a project where I did my end of the production in DP and then sent it out for mixing in ProTools. I just saved my MachFive performance within DP, then loaded the DP data together with the MIDI tracks into ProTools. No fuss, no muss.
A can-do sample can opener
MachFive includes an import utility called UVI-Xtract which proved to be a very capable can opener letting me audition and load programs and samples from all the major formats including Akai, SampleCell, EXS24, and even those cool Gigasampler libraries. And if you've got a ton of older-format stuff, don't worry. UVI-Xtract will parse your Kurtzweil, E-MU, Roland, or CD-ROMs, converting programs or even complete discs easily.
16-part multitimbrality lets you build performances the way you want with each part giving you a choice of audio outputs, volume, pan, etc. Parts can also receive MIDI data from any channel creating instant stacks. With MachFive's Expert mode you can use keys to open and close multiparts in real time and, using a MIDI controller, create splits with crossfades between keys.
Synthesis tools are accessed from the heart of the MachFive window. This central portion of the window displays your selected filter and provides your controls for sample start offsets, cutoff frequencies with multiple filter types available, and a Drive parameter that puts more bite into the sound. Other controls include Resonance, Envelope Depth, Velocity to Attack, Velocity to Decay, and Key Follow which scales the keyboard to the filter cut-off frequency. Six sliders let you set filter envelope parameters. There are too many control surface details to deal with exhaustively here. However, MOTU's Web site (www.motu.com) has an excellent tour of the software that pinpoints dozens of its operational highlights.
MachFive accepts samples in stereo, mono, or in 5.1 surround. The waveform editor and the accompanying display let you manipulate your samples almost infinitely-truncating, normalizing, and fading them in real time while you monitor the sequence. There's nothing like hearing your on-the-fly tweaks in the real-world context of your mix. For me, working this way results in establishing musical transitions and far more funkier grooves. Because the software supports full-blown 24-bit/192kHz audio, there's no need for low-res "draft" versions of your samples. Listen to them in gorgeous, fully defined sound and you'll become a lot more surefooted in the way you go about building mixes.
Beauty in the details
Dozens of cool tools make music production more fun and intuitive. A built-in tuner with graphic display keeps you in the pitch pocket while a graphic spectrum analyzer makes a great productivity tool.
You'll also love the way MachFive handles keymapping. Just drag samples from your host application onto MachFive's keyboard and you're done. You can drag multiple samples simultaneously to map chromatically or you can map by pitch. You can also audition your samples while you're importing them, listening to each note as you stretch your keymap over a key range.
I've just scratched the surface of MachFive's capabilities, having barely touched on its powerful multi-effects, modulation, and synching. Suffice it to say that if you're an avid sampler, MachFive belongs on your desktop.
Features & Specs:
|Compatible Audio Formats|
|Soundbank Import Formats||Plug-in Formats|
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