Review of String Studio VS-3 String Oscillator Synthesiser (VST/AU/AAX) by Applied Acoustics Solutions (AAS)

Review of String Studio VS-3 String Oscillator Synthesiser (VST/AU/AAX) by Applied Acoustics Solutions (AAS)

Introduction

Applied Acoustics Solutions (AAS) have released an all new version of its string oscillator synthesiser, String Studio. String Studio VS-3 plug-in runs on both Windows and Mac OS X in 64-bit host sequencers that support the VST2, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native, and NKS formats, typically priced at $199. There are a number of upgrade options for users of versions 1 and 2. Further details can be found on the String Studio page of the AAS website.

Background

String Studio VS-3 is a synthesizer in which a collection of unique string oscillators replaces the traditional VCOs, DCOs, and operators as the main sound source. Consisting of picks, bows, and hammers interacting with a modelled string, these oscillators offer a special blend of modern and creative synthesis. Augmented with a soundboard, classic filters, an envelope generator, a LFO, and studio-quality effects, String Studio VS-3 proposes a brand-new path in the quest for tone.

“This new version is all about adding new dimensions to the distinctive sonic signature of String Studio,” says Eric Thibeault, product designer at Applied Acoustics Systems. “String Studio VS-3 is now multitimbral. Combining two independent String Studio synthesis engines opens up a whole new world in terms of content. We’ve also added per-layer modulators that allow sound designers to make sound variations an integral part of the design process. Most importantly, a huge effort has been put into the factory library to exploit all these new possibilities. Each and every sounds were fine-tuned to provide a consistent gain-stage, unity-gain effects, better dynamics, and compelling MIDI-controlled sound transformation assignments.​ ​We’re confident that you’ll love this new iteration of String Studio.”

Conclusions

It’s hard to put into words just how good this synth is. It sounds awesome, is incredibly powerful yet is really intuitive and easy to get to grips with at the same time.

It’s one of those that took me by surprise, I was expecting typical string sounds like violins and guitars but the depth and breadth of sounds is quite stunning. Basses, guitars, plucks, rhythms, sequences, textures, pads, arps, leads – the list of sounds that it can produce is huge.

The bundled presets highlight this. They are extensive, sound excellent and allow you to use String Studio straight away. They also give you the option to tweak sounds and learn how to create your own sounds.

I’ve used String Studio to create the tracks for the EP embedded at the top of the post. It’s based on the contrast between the lure of a big city and the peacefulness of the country. wen was created using Scaler and uses multiple instances of String Studio along with a drum loop and a vocal loop. taiga was created using RapidComposer and uses multiple instances of String Studio and a field recording. Both tracks were mixed using Eventide effects (Blackhole, SP2016 reverb, H3000 Factory, Ultrachannel) and mastered in MuLab 8 using Magnetite (Black Rooster Audio), Stage (Fielder Audio), Elevate (Newfangled Audio) and Youlean Loudness meter.

Because String Studio models the sounds, you’d expect to need a fairly high powered machine. The manual recommends an Intel Core i5 or faster, however, I’ve used it on an old Dual Core 2Gb Pentium and it runs perfectly ok although the CPU can only cope with about 4 instances.

In-Depth Review

The GUI is well designed so that it is easy to use and find your way around. There are a series of tabs that change the display to the desired controls, some of these have additional buttons to display further parameters. This approach keeps the interface clean, preventing an overwhelming display. There are play, synth, effects and browse tabs for each layer as well as a master effects section.

The utility section at the top of the display has functions such as browse presets, compare, save, history and settings. As well as the usual polyphony, tuning and midi settings one excellent feature is the potential to tune String Studio to different temperaments – microtonal tuning – using Scala micro-tuning files.

The architecture is inspired by the functioning of string instruments. The vibration of a string is the main sound production mechanism and can be produced by a hammer, pick or bow. The frequency is determined by string length controlled by fret or finger interaction. You can apply a damper to reduce the decay time and the body for acoustic instruments and pickups for electric guitars also shapes the sound.

This is the basis for the string oscillators that replace traditional oscillators you find on a synth. String Studio provides three types of string oscillator, a bowed string oscillator (BSO), hammered string oscillator (HSO), and a plucked string oscillator (PSO). The output from the oscillator is filtered by the Filter and Body modules and then processed in a mixer and multi-effects module. You can use two oscillators simultaneously layered or in split keyboard mode.

On loading, the play tab is loaded. This has the main performance orientated modules. You have quick access to switch on/off effects and access to key parameters; the clock module allows you to sync to host or use the rate knob; the keyboard module controls how String Studio responds to midi, this can be mono or poly with a control to adjust tuning; unison module; glide module; two modulator modules that can be used to assign midi controllers to destination parameters; vibrato module; arpeggiator module with 16 step pattern underneath. The ribbon controller is a handy feature, it’s a 7 octave keyboard that can be used to test sounds or determine where the split occurs when using split mode. There are also pitch and modulation wheels.

Synth view is the heart of String Studio. There are ten modules organised into four groups that can be switched using the buttons beneath each module.

The Exciter module is the method used to vibrate the string – bow, hammer 1, hammer 2 and plectrum. The controls vary to reflect their different properties and characteristics.

The body module adjusts the properties of the body of the instrument that radiates the sound. This includes size. shape, materials and decay time.

The damper module attenuates the vibration of the string, for example felt on a piano or using your finger on a guitar.

The termination module models the finger / fret / string interaction where the string is pressed down to play a note. Essentially this considers how hard you press the string and the stiffness of the fret underneath.

The geometry module alters the point of action of the damper and exciter on the string and the option to use a pickup and determine its position.

The distortion module offers a range of distortions from mellow to metal.

The filter module is a multi-mode filter including a resonant low-pass, band-pass, high-pass, notch and a formant filter. The cut-off and resonance can be modulated using different sources.

The envelope module is based on a standard ADSR envelope.

The LFO module is used as a modulation source for the filter module.

The effects tab displays the multi-effects processor. The first two effects are equaliser and compressor that can be switched on or off. There are a further 3 effects that you can also switch on or off and can choose from Delay, Distortion, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, WahWah, AutoWah, Guitar Amplifier, Tremolo, and a Notch filter. There are individual effects for each layer as well as a separate master effects layer.

The browser tab gives you access to the library of presets that can be loaded as a layer. You can search by pack or sound type.

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