Review of Spectrasonics Atmosphere
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Review of
Spectrasonic's
Atmosphere

A soft synth dedicated to textures, pads, and ambient color

by Tweak

Note: Atmosphere's Library is now included in Spectrasonics Omnisphere

It sits there on your computer screen like a like a massive 4 rack unit synth.  It's a big one all right.  My screen is set to  1152x864 pixels, and this is how it looks in Logic.  I like the big size, as I get tired of the tiny fonts and color schemes in some plugins that make the text almost unreadable.  You won't have that problem with Atmosphere. 

 

 

Its laid out logically following the signal flow of an analog synth, all the functions are easy to  find, read and use.  Clicking in the patchname opens a 3 tiered menu where you can select from 14 categories of sounds.  There are a lot of sounds.  I tried to count them up but lost track around 400 and I was less than half done. These are not tiny little synth waves, but massive samples, bigger than those you would get with a Triton or Motif, exceeding, in some instances, the samples that come with premium sample cds. So that should be sparking your interest. 
 

What is Atmosphere?

Pros
  • Great sound quality
  • Splendid variety of sounds--there are textures, strings,  basses, synths, leads and more
  • Version 1.0 is Stable on my system
Cons
  • No stand alone mode
  • Restrictive license agreement for those doing sound development
  • Does not work on the newer intel Macs
Info:  Spectrasonics Website
Spectrasonics Atmosphere Dream Synth (Macintosh and Windows)

The Atmosphere Dream Synth Module (tm), is a new type of software plug-in instrument that integrates a massive, three gigabyte core library of more than one thousand unique sounds and layer elements, with a powerful and intuitive interface for shaping new textures. Atmosphere works as a native plug-in instrument in all major hosts like Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase, Nuendo and Pro-Tools.  Tweak: Here's the patchlist

Other Software by Spectrasonics

First lets clear up some misconceptions about Atmosphere.  It is not a soft sampler.  It's a synth based on sample playback.  Can you load samples?  Nope.  Can you export samples? Nope. It's a closed system, you cannot add or tweak anything at the sample level.  Is it just a preset soft synth?  Nope again! You can program up custom sounds and save edited presets to a directory in the computer.  So what is it then?! Its a soft synth, based on some very excellent samples, that is fully programmable that lets you save as many custom patches as you want.  It is much like adding a hardware synth to your rack, except you are in the software domain. 
 

What does Atmosphere sound like?
 

Hehe, well, it's atmospheric; it's synthetic; it's vintage sounding, it's high quality.   Many of the samples, it appears, were recorded with ambience and reverb.  There are no reverb settings on the front panel.  No effects engine unless it is hidden and inaccessible. 

The Atmospheres themselves are categorized as Ambient (with 18 sub-categories), Bell Tones, Big Swells, Evolving Moods, Intricate Motions, Noises (with 8 sub-categories), and "Pads" which have the sub-categories of airy, bright, Euro, flutey, brassy, glassy, hollow and pure and warm and soft. 

But Atmosphere does more than just do atmospheres.  There is a generous supply of Synth Basses which are well defined. Among the Synth categories are analog, brassy, digital, organ-ish, techno and more. There's a category for filter sweeps, phase and flange, radical and vintage leads,  and "wave utility" with basic waveforms and test tones. There's a category called "Vinyl" that has record noise added to the pads.  These playback in a very clean fashion with no reverb, thankfully.

Strings have their own category with acoustic/hybrid, analog strings and trilling tricks as subcategories.  I really like the acoustic string samples.  There is one patch the "Hollywood Studio String Section" which is 145 megs in size.  And it sounds wonderful.  I think it has the won the status of being the best string patch on my system (I have thousands).  145.8 Meg!  It could not even fit in my Emu E-5000! 
 

Memory Requirements

That should be raising your eyebrows a little.  How much memory is on your system? Those running 256 megs may have some problems loading the big presets.  I have 512 and I can tell the computer is not too happy with 4 instances of Atmosphere when I hold down some big chords.. Spectrasonics recommends using a gigabyte or more of memory with Logic.  So upgrade the memory. Or get back to the old game of converting tracks to audio as right after you record them to free up space for the next.  Atmosphere does not stream from disk right now. 
 

Using Atmosphere

First of all, Atmosphere as of this writing does not have a stand-alone mode.  You have to call it up inside your sequencer.  If your recording application cannot load soft synths you are basically out of luck. 

Using Atmosphere could not be simpler.  Just load the plugin like any other VSTi and record from a MIDI keyboard.

Tweakability. There are 2 basic layers to the structure of every patch, an "A" section and a "B" section.  When you load a preset it loads both sections.  Here's where the fun begins.  You can load in different sounds for either section (or both) and go to town with filters, envelopes, lfos, and plenty of other modulators.  When you are done save the patch using your sequencer's patch saving functions.  

What does it work with?  Any sequencer that will run VSTi plugins.  To use it with Sonar, the website say to use a VSTi shell (Spectrasonics recommends DirectiXer, FXpansion VST-DX Adapter and the Spin Audio STDX).  Their site also says you cannot use  it in an Windows Pro Tools RTAS system.  The Mac version will eventually support VSTi, Audio units, and RTAS under OSX.  See more details in the FAQ.

The user license agreement.  Generally it reads OK but they do preclude you from using it to "make a sample library or another kind of sample-based product".  The way I read that, you can't come up with your own tweaks, sample them and include them in a library.  Given that the project's creator admittedly made use of nearly every soft synth on the market today to make Atmosphere, I find this a bit unfair, a bit like the pot telling the kettle to stay off the stove. While I am thinking they did this to prevent someone from making minor tweaks and selling it for $20 at an online auction, there are many honest sound developers out there that would like to use something tweaked in Atmosphere as an element of a sound.  Thankfully, you can use Atmosphere in any music production royalty free.  You can't rent out your studio and let your clients use it though.  Read it.  It bugs me.  Once again software pirates have ruined our world.
 

Summing up

If you have a system that can meet Atmosphere's demands, it is a wonderful addition to your rig.  As our computers get faster, these demands will diminish, but Atmosphere's classy sounds will not. There is nothing in the Native Instrument's line that can rival Atmosphere.  Reason cannot touch sounds like these.  It is much like having a premium sample cd rom always on board and ready to be used, which is far superior to digging through a collection of cd roms, finding the preset, loading it into a sampler.  Those doing movie scores and professional music production are going to love it.  So you might too.
 



Want to Discuss?  Go to the Soft Synth Forum at Studio Central


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