All the action happens into three main pages: Play, Edit and Effects; each is accessible from the top, just below the logo, which, since I’ve mentioned it, once is the clicked, it will give details about the current version and a link to the PDF manual.
The Play tab is what you see first, and is aimed at performance. It comes with a number of parameters and functions related to the shaping of sound, rhythmicity and rapid customization.
The first row is a smart shortcut to the effects, giving rapid access to compression, equalizer and three other FX which vary depending on the selection made in the main Effects page. You can tweak only few basic parameters, for example the equalizer lets you adjust the gain of low, mid, and high frequencies, which are a simplification of the more complex modules from Effects page. All FX modules can be enabled/disabled as desired.
Next, we have presented a series of key effect parameters. The Clock module is where you control the tempo of the different effects from the FX page, as well as LFO and Arpeggiator, but only if their Sync button is turned on. Follows Keyboard module, this part allowing you to choose either mono (play one note at a time) or poly (play chords) modes, and set the behavior of the keyboard, when several notes are depressed at the same time in monophonic mode or when the maximum number of polyphonic voices has been reached in polyphonic mode. The Error knob “destroys” the linearity of the sound, by adding a random pitch variation to the note(s) you play.
The Unison brings depth to the sound: enrich it with 2 or 4 voices, detune them and add some delay in between. The Glide module makes the pitch slide between notes rather than changing immediately from note to note.
The Vibrato is an important module, it would bring to life even the most boring sound (although Ultra Analog VA-2 is not capable of something lifeless). It consists of a series of knobs to adjust and set the frequency of the vibrato effect, its depth, the lag, as well as the fade-in – all being related to the Amount knob. Tweaking the MW gain knob, you can decide the effect of keyboard modulation wheel over the depth of vibrato.
Finally, the Arpeggiator does what it has to do, ie arpeggiates a chord you play, in the limits of 4 octaves, with notes arranged in 4 patterns: highest to lowest, lowest to highest, Rock and Roll exclusive and Rock and Roll inclusive. The Span sets the opening of rhythmic sequence, filtering it to low notes only, high notes only, and wide mode with all notes on. The rhythmic pattern below is a simple way to create your own melodies and rhythms.
Moving on to the Edit page, we see what’s under the hood of Ultra Analog VA-2: two detunable oscillators with fine control on the pitch, selection of waveforms (sine, saw, square & noise), sub-oscillator, and hard synchronization. The pitch can be done with Octave, Semi and Detune controls, while the sub-oscillator is a complementary wave of signal, a subtle emphasis of the main characteristics of the oscillator. These kind of things, unimportant at first sight, make the difference: the sub-oscillator is the step forward leading this softsynth from amazing to brilliant.
The sound of the oscillators go through two multi-mode filters, which can be used in parallel, in series or any combination of both. Each of the filters come with resonant low-pass, band-pass, high-pass, notch and two formant filters, accesible from the Type drop-down menu. The cutoff frequency can be adjusted with the Frequency knob, and the resonance of the filters is set with the Resonance knob. Both parameters can be modulated with different modulation sources.
The LFO module is next in line and acts like a modulation source for Oscillator, Filter and Amplifier modules, allowing you to select and adjust the shape of waveform, the phase, lag and fade-in of the signal.
An Amplifier module completes the chain. Actually each filter has its own amplifier, the signal flowing totally independent from the other. The Amp Env modulates the level of signal, together with Key modulation knob, which in addition adds a tremolo effect to the overall sound. Turn it to the left and boost low notes across modulation, while turning it anticlockwise results in a boost of highs. The amplification module is much more complex than I outlined here, so I will stop now because I do not want to make a mistake (or more mistakes?!). I admit, this module put me in difficulty.
The last tab is Effects, a multi-fx module with three “fixed” processors- compressor, equalizer and reverb, plus two other configurable processor slots. These two configurable effect processors can be loaded with delay, distortion, phaser, vintage chorus, chorus, flanger, auto wah, wah wah, and notch. Each of the 5 effect processors units can be turned on/off, and the two configurable slots can be ordered with drag & drop. A more detailed description of each processor can be found in manual.
Few virtual synths have the ability to fold around the user, and this is one of them. Everything, from the interface to the final result- the sound, inspire warmth and analog feel, and its architecture makes it even more familiar and user-friendly.
Ultra Analog VA-2 by Applied Acoustics Systems at first appears innoxious and simple, once you start looking under the hood, you discover a beast of a synthesizer, with many options to sculpt and manipulate the sound. And just because sometimes it can put you in difficulty, the extensive library of sounds is more than welcome: grouped into sound types, the factory presets show clearly the capabilities of this soft synth.
My favorites presets are the keys – each sound means melody, and is a solid backbone for any riff or hook. It would not be fair to omit the fat analog sounding basses paired with some exciting vintage leads and rich & powerfully evocative pads.
In terms of resources used, Ultra Analog VA-2 is not too hungry, being optimized for mid-end machines. Moving on to the utility and versatility versus asked price, the $199 are perfectly justified, this softsynth is one of the most accessible reproduction of yesteryear synthesizers, bringing the best of analog sound into the world of modern music production.
I recommend it with my greatest pleasure to all those who make music with soul.