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The other week I published a written review on Plugin Boutique’s BigKick, a versatile kick synthesizer with a load of useful features. They’ve just released a new plugin called VirtualCZ [AFF LINK], a hardware inspired synthesizer that’s sure to be a hit among sound designers and synth enthusiasts.
In this review I’ll be going through the stand out features of the synth – what sets it apart from the rest. I’ll also give a quick recommendation followed by a video review of the synth so that you can see it in action.
The Perfect Casio CZ Emulator
VirtualCZ was developed as an emulation of the popular Casio CZ range of digital hardware synthesizers, which were produced in the 1980’s. The Casio CZ synthesizers employed and essentially created phase distortion synthesis, which is akin to frequency modulation synthesis.
What does this mean? First of all, it means that VirtualCZ is much different to most software synthesizers out there. It looks different, it sounds different, and it functions differently to your standard subtractive virtual analogue synth. It also means that if you have a soft spot for old hardware like the Casio CZ series, you’ll feel right at home. In fact, you’ll even benefit from VirtualCZ if you own a Casio CZ synth, as you can edit and export SYSEX presets.
What Makes VirtualCZ Stand Out?
I’ve already mentioned that VirtualCZ stands out on the market, but that statement could mean anything. What makes this synth so great?
Two Envelope Types
One of the main features of VirtualCZ is its two types of envelopes.
When first used, you’ll see that the envelopes are a bit different compared to your standard subtractive synth. There’s no simple ADSR curve, instead you’ve got 7 different faders for each modulation (pitch, DCW, and amplitude), and 8 knobs.
These are known as MSEG envelopes, or "multi-segment” envelopes and allow for much more complex manipulation over the time domain of the sound. Despite their versatility, MSEG envelopes can be quite daunting, overwhelming, and even unnecessary when making simple sounds, which is why VirtualCZ also has the option to use ADSR envelopes as well.
Quick and Easy Vibrato
Another standout feature of VirtualCZ is the incredibly simple yet effective vibrato section. In essence, it’s an LFO assigned to the pitch that has various parameters for rate, trigger, shape, and so on.
What I love most about this vibrato module is the shapes it includes. You can go with the classic shapes such as a sine wave or saw, but you can also experiment with more elaborate waveforms such as noise and sample & hold, which give a very interesting sound.
The vibrato section is great for subtle tweaks to an already existing sound or as a main feature of a new sound. You can create wobbles, alarms, risers, and other sorts of abstract effects.
I try to avoid including presets as one of the features when doing reviews, but with VirtualCZ I simply had to.
VirtualCZ comes packed with 5 backs of presets made by talented sound designers such as Oli Larkin, Don Solaris, and Scott AbstractCats. Some of the presets are, well, quite "out there” as far as usability goes, but they’re great for studying and reverse engineering.
Warm, Rich Sound
Finally, VirtualCZ has a particular sound that’s hard to place your finger on. It’s rich and warm, but at the same time has a harsh element to it. Those who want the classic analog sound in their music will be satisfied, but others who are looking for a more modern sound will also find the synth delivers on that front.
Put simply, VirtualCZ has a distinctive sound that exhibits quality in any application.
VirtualCZ isn’t for everyone; I’ll say that up front. It can be confusing, especially for the new producer or someone who’s new to synthesis. It can also be quite limiting in terms of the sounds you can make, as phase distortion synthesis is quite a niche technique and certain limitations of VirtualCZ (such as the lack of detune in polyphony mode) makes designing certain sounds such as supersaws a struggle (however, it hasn’t been developed for supersaw creation!)
If you’re someone who’s into older hardware such as the Casio CZ series, then this synth is one you can’t miss. It’s the perfect emulation, one that will impress even the most religious users of hardware.
It’s also a great tool for the adventurous sound designers out there. Those who want to make weird, wacky, evolving sounds. The MSEG envelopes allow for sound manipulation that’s impossible in other popular synths, and the OSC and vibrato section are two more tools that lend favor to the sound designer.
My advice? Download the trial and see whether it’s for you or not.
You can purchase VirtualCZ or download the free trial here.
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