Review: Substance Bass Engine by Output

By | 2016-11-07T13:46:25+00:00 September 15th, 2016|review|

With each product, Output are reinventing themselves. Although I had some suspicion that the new release will be about a bass (blame it on the teaser), they took me by surprise again.

Because Substance is more than a bass – is Output’s completely new breed of bass, a hybrid instrument which seems taken from the science fiction movies.

But to get to sit face to face with Substance, you must first download and install it, processes that go extremely fast, especially now when Output are using a new type of downloader/licenses holder called Output Hub. The software lets you download, update and add expansions easily, at a distance of a click. To get access, log in with your email and password from the Output account.

Following the line of its predecessors, Substance runs in both Kontakt or free Kontakt player. So if you don’t own a paid copy of Native Instrument Kontakt, you can still use the bass beast – download the free Kontakt Player version 5.5.1 or higher, then activate the library via NI Service Center.

See also: Review of EXHALE modern vocal engine by Output

The GUI looks metallic and cold, like is made out of cast iron painted in dark gray, with a central console – the 3-layer engine, where you can combine three main pieces. The three pieces are in fact three sound layers, you can combine and disable them as you wish. On each layer slot you can select a sound category from a total of 9 categories of bass guitars, brasses, synths, organic hybrids or one shots & impacts. You can combine up to three of these, but keep in mind that each category has another 9 sound sources, so, adding the FX, filters, modulation etc, the possibilities of shaping an unique bass sound are virtually limitless.

These stay at the core of Substance: the sound sources, basically sampled sounds from a variety of sources such as real guitar basses, synth plucks and subs, low brasses and woodwinds, found sounds, and much more.


Click on any layer and a window with sound categories and source opens

The sound design of Substance goes across six pages/tabs: main, edit, eq, filter, fx and rhythm. The “main” page is the initial interface with the 3-layer engine, each layer being superb represented graphically; the graphic design team did an impressive work. As mentioned above, when you click on a layer you will be prompted to choose a sound source. Next to the 3-layer engine are “sculpted” four macro sliders which are unique to each preset, but fully configurable. To do this, simply press the “macro” button next to presets window on top, then select the desired macro and add parameters to the slots to be macro controlled (navigate to any page and if one of its parameter is assignable, on hover you will see an “assign” message + the number of macro). It sounds complicated, but trust me is not, it just offers a lot of fun and urges you to create effects with personal touch. Each macro slider can host up to six parameters with adjustable position, range and direction… it is a delight!

Next page is “edit”, and as its name indicates, it is where you can configure in detail each of the three layers. Edit page lets you select the layer, bypass it, adjust the volume and tweak the ADSR envelope. Next in line, there are controls for stereo width and pan, fine tuning and transpose, to move the sample start point and enter the monophonic (one voice per layer) and legato modes. But that’s not all. At the very bottom is an “Advanced” button; once you click it, a window expands and (for each layer!) you can set the keyboard range (perfect for advanced keyboard players, you can basically split the keyboard in three), increase the glide time between the notes and adjust the keyboard sensitivity.


The “edit” page – intuitive and powerful

The “eq” page is built on the same efficient template, with each layer on its row. You can access a three band equalizer, turn it on or off, adjust the frequency, gain and the bandwidth. I guess you have understood from the foregoing that each layer has its own equalizer. But on top of that, there is also a global equalizer with same controls.

Moving on to the “filter” page, we find filter sections for each layer, as well as a global filter. You can select the desired filter type (from a total of 10), set its cutoff and resonance or talk and size if is a formant type of filter. Next you can enter and adjust the filter ADSR and set the amount and direction of the filter envelope.

Substance has 6 FX slots per layer, as well as a global FX unit; they can be accessed from the “fx” tab/page. The layer FX slots consist of distort, motion, pitch, compressor, delay and reverb. The global FX are limited to four – a distortion with 11 cabinet types and screamer parameters, a compressor with limiter, simple delay and a reverb unit with “Creative” and “Real” reverb types/impulses.


Click on each FX slot to adjust the parameters

The last page is “rhythm”, where you can add rhythmic modulation per layer and globally. You can choose the shape of waveforms or the step pattern to trigger the rhythm (you can also “draw” your own pattern). The custom wave shapes are split into simple and complex, while the step patterns are grouped in simple, syncopated and triplet categories. The flux unit increases/decreases the rate of rhythm modulation based on the flux step pattern.

Substance comes with a powerful arpeggiator. You will enter a new dimension of rhythm design, where you can choose an arpeggio playback style, access pre-made velocity patterns or create your own from scratch, increase or decrease gate and swing and more.

And because you always have to start from somewhere, Substance has 300 presets, grouped in a well designed preset manager where you can filter by type, mood, complexity, rhythm etc. You can also favorite presets, create your own and save them in an user folder. Simple and efficient.


The preset manager is simple and to the point

In conclusion, Output managed again to come up with something new and unique, the “A Completely New Breed of Bass” slogan is perfectly justified. At first sight, Substance may look intimidating, but after you jump into it, you will realize that is created with the user in mind – you won’t struggle to keep it under control. You will be able to achieve the desired sounds with a few clicks – that if you aren’t satisfied with the 300 factory presets (but I doubt that will happen anytime soon). For those pretentious, it has in-depth controls and parameters, bringing the sound design to another level. Substance is capable of earth-shaking basses with piercing low frequences, pulsating arpeggios, real-sounding bass guitars, rich synth leads and analog emulations, as well as deconstructed brasses, hi-tech pads, SFX and much much more.

What makes Substance unique is the blend of high quality sounds from a variety of sources with insane effects and powerful filters. The way all these are delivered and the whole concept create a new standard in the world of hybrid virtual instruments.

More info:

Substance Bass Engine by Output

About the Author:

Stephen Rich

Stephen is the founder of flstudiomusic, and every day brings you the latest music production news. He also writes reviews from time to time. You can find him on Facebook.

Leave A Comment