Posted on Thu 03 March 2011 in entries

Calling all Omnisphere users! Prepare for a monster update that will blow your mind! Calling all non-Omnisphere users! It's time for an update that may well tempt you reconsider your virtual instrument of choice...


You mean you actually don't know what Omnisphere is? Where have you been living? Oh well, I guess I will have to fill you in!

Omnisphere is an extremely powerful virtual instrument from an extremely well respected company, Spectrasonics (the guys also responsible for the equally brilliant Trillian virtual instrument). Omnisphere has become famous for the incredibly detailed, atmospheric, psychoacoustic sounds that it is capable of producing, making it an industry favourite for pads, and with film sound designers. Omnisphere ships with a HUGE library of sounds, meaning that there will be something in there for everyone, and the virtual instrument also makes use of a number of new types of sampling, all pioneered by Spectrasonics themselves! If you want to tweak parameters, or create a sound completely from scratch, Omnisphere includes a whole load of control capablities, and a number of fantastic sounding synth engines and synthesis features (e.g. waveshaping, DSP synthesis, polyphonic ring modulation, FM, timbre shifting, high-resolution sample playback, chaos envelopes, Dual multimode filter structure, Harmonia, advanced unison mode, an innovative Flex-mod modulation routing system, and more!) Omnisphere even features an extremely flexible arpeggiator, and a host of effects for if you want to add something a little bit extra to your sound.

In addition to all this, Omnisphere is also a brilliant live instrument, with a built-in 'Live Mode' to assist with transitionless patch switching, and 'Stack Mode' that allows for powerful performance mapping. So, that is a basic introduction to this awesome product, althogh its strengths really lie in the sounds that it can produce, so make sure you check out the video further down this blog post and get a listen for yourself!


What I am about to say is completely true. In my opinion, Omnisphere version 1.5 is the best and most exciting update I have ever witnessed! The fact that this thing is free to existing Omnisphere users really impresses me, as I would say that the update could definitely get away with charging customers a bit of money - I would certainly pay for it for the additional features that are being offered! Not that I want to give Spectrasonics any ideas though! So instead I shall greatly applaud them for being so generous - not literally though... bursting out into a seemingly random bout of clapping at my desk in the Absolute Music offices would almost certainly lead onto quite a serious meeting with the boss about the state of my mental health... or maybe he would give me a paid holiday thinking I need a little time to relax... maybe it is worth a try after all! :P

Anyway, moving on, I've already mentioned how great this update is, but I'm guessing you want to know exactly what makes it so 'fly like a G6'? In short, Omnisphere has been expanded, meaning it is now better soundng, more interactive, and easier to use! In a little more detail, the update includes an expanded sound library, new user friendly features such as improved browser views, a host of new synthesis parameters, and most exciting of all, a synthesis and control revelation in the form of what Spectrsonics have named, the Orb!


Lets start at the beginning before we move onto the exciting Orb feature! When developing Omnisphere version 1.5, Spectrasonics made a conscious effort to listen to current users, and gear the update towards their needs. I for one, really commend them for doing this, and would urge more companys to do the same as the best feedback is usually going to come from the people that are using a product day in, day out, and whos views are not fogged with the task of working on the development team.

As well as the requested support for polyphonic aftertouch that is now built into the Omnisphere virtual instrument, the update also features some new browser modes to make searching for that perfect sound a far simpler task. The new five-column browser mode makes it much easier to view all sound categories and sub-categories at once, making it quicker to jump back and forth within your current search path. Given that the Omnisphere library has now expanded with 780 new patches, this can only be a good thing! In fact, Omnisphere 1.5 now features 5000 patches, and a total of over 8000 sounds!!! All of this combines to make Omnisphere 1.5 one of the most powerful synths in the world!


As well as featuring an increased number of presets, the Omnisphere update is also more programmable! If you have any interest in designing your own sounds, and not just working from prests, then the highly tweakable interface of Omnisphere will be right up your street! As well as the wealth of synthesis parameters included in the previous version of Omnisphere, the update has chucked in a few more for additional creative options...

For starters, the Harmonia has been expanded. The Harmonia is an extremely powerful synth, that allows you to add up to 10 oscillators per patch and modulate and fine tune each individually for some serious creative flexibility and rich sounds! The Harmonia in Omnisphere 1.5 features a new zoom view so you can now see all the parameters at once if you so desire, making it much quicker to tune all the oscillators' parameters against one another!

The Waveshaping synth in Omnisphere has also been improved in the update! For the unlucky people out there that have never had the chance to use Omnisphere before, the Waveshaping synth is brilliant for warping sounds in fantastically unique ways, to produce new twisted creations! Again, the Waveshaping synth has been equipped with a new zoom feature to allow you to view the many parameters of the synth all at once if you choose, plus, the waveshaper now features a polyphonic bit crusher and a polyphonic sample rate reducer, which are both modulatable, and include Animation and Force parameters. These new processing features allow you to 'filth' up your sounds more than ever before, so are certainly welcome additions to the Omnisphere package in my book!

Finally, the Granular Synthesis features of Omnisphere have also been expanded. Surprise, surprise, it too features a new zoom view! However, it also features new speed and position modes, which allows you to create dramatic polyphonic shifts through the audio and time spectrums! If this made very little sense to you then I would suggest watching the demo video included in this blog post. It's rather difficult to explain without giving you a little more background on the theories involved in granular synthesis!

The most obvious improvement to Omnisphere's granular synth is the new 'Granular Visualiser'. Granular synthesis can be a rather confusing subject, and many people find it difficult to visualise what is actually going on when they make a parameter adjustment. I don't think it is completely necessary to know what you are doing when designing new sounds (some fantastic music has been made by people just fiddling with synth dials who confess that they do not understand the science of what they are doing), but I always think it helps a little bit if you know the basics of how your synth is working. The granular visualiser displays a 3D model of what is happening within the granular synth, which changes in real-time as you tweak parameters. I have to admit that I still think you need to know a little bit about granular synthesis in order to fully understand the visualiser! I once programmed my own granular synthesiser VST, and even to me the visualiser sometimes just looks like a lot of pretty swirls! But I think the more you use the granular synthesiser in Omnisphere, the more you will understand how the visualiser is implying what is going on within the engine.


For me (and many other people out their I presume), the Orb is what makes this update so special. All the little features that I have mentioned before hand are the types of thing I would expect from an update - a few more controls, sounds, and user friendly features - but the Orb is what sets Omnisphere 1.5 aside from any update that I have seen before, as it adds a completely new and intuitive way to control your sounds.

The Orb is a completely unique new type of circular controller for sound manipulation that works on an 'orbit' system. Basically, this means that whilst the Orb may produce changes within your sound, it will always return to it's pure form at some point (or multiple points) within the duration of a sound. What the Orb does is intelligently analyses your current patch, decides what effects would sound good on it, and what synthesis parameters would have the best effect on it, and also looks at modulation routings, etc. It essentially sets up things that would take hours of planning and implementation if you were to do it manually, and the Orb does it all instantly, musically, and intelligently! You can then use the Orb controller to glide seamlessly between these patch variations to create highly complex effects for studio productions and live performance. I have no idea how Spectrasonics have achieved this, but I have massive respect for them for pulling it off! It can't have been easy, but it sounds brilliant!

Despite being such a complex controller, the Orb can be controlled extremely simply. All the user needs to do is move the controller (the small dot) within the circular Orb, and listen to the sonic variations that it produces! This can be achieved with a computer mouse, a MIDI controller, or using an iPad touchscreen if you download the new Omni TR iPad application! This is a brilliant concept for live performance by the way, and control can all be carried out wirelessy. Plus it's free - although you will need to buy the Omnisphere software to use it of course!

Omnisphere - The Orb

As well as just moving the Orb controller, it is also possible to set it to follow a 'movement trail' so that it creates repeating complex sonic variations all on its own. To achieve this, you can move or flick the controller before releasing it, and watch it bounce around within the Orb like a bouncy ball! You can then control the speed of it's movements (or stop it altogether) using the 'Inertia' slider to get the effect of the Orb just right! This kind of repeated movement allows you to add a kind of symmetry to a performance, and imposes some rules for the Orb to follow rather than just letting it loose to produce completely random and uncontrolled variations, which may be undesirable. To impose further control within the Orb, you can also sync the movements that you record in time with the tempo of a host project! I think that this is an extremely useful feature of the Orb, as it allows it's performance to be easily integrated with your studio production work. In fact, you can also automate the movements of the Orb within a host application or record your own movements in real-time, so you can create movements that are as crazy or as subtle as you like - but always controlled.

If you load up the Orb and decide that you don't like the patch variations that it has come up with, then this is no problem at all - the interfaces features a 'Dice' button that you can click to completely re-configure it. This can be done as many times as you like until you find the set-up that suits your needs, and each new Orb configuration will stay musical and useful! Also, if you are feeling really adventurous, it's even possible to manually configure the Orb by assigning it to your chosen parameters in Omnisphere's highly advanced modulation matrix. This kind of flexible behaviour makes the Orb an ultra-powerful production/performance tool... are you getting tempted to try it for yourself yet?

Once you have the Orb set up as you require it, then everything can be saved. That's right, EVERYTHING, from your modulation routings (even if they were developed semi-randomly by the 'Dice' button), to the movements that you program. You can save them within the patch, multi-patch (layered sounds), or within the host's current project, and recall them whenever you want. The Omnisphere is more flexible than an Olympic Russian gymnast!


This blog post has covered all the main features that have been added to the Omnisphere update, but there are a number of other extras to take note of! For starters, version 1.5 makes it easier to edit Omnisphere with new multichannel systems such as guitar synths, or an Eigenharp controller using the new 'Clone Part' feature. The update also comes with a new 'MIDI Learn' mode, which enables hardware controllers that send a single channel to have all of their learned knobs, sliders, and switches affect any part currently selected in Omnisphere in Live Mode. This means that it is easier than ever to control Omnisphere with an external hardware synth. And finally, modulation envelope points can now be key-command snapped to semi-tone positions when modulating pitch, making this task exceptionally quick and easy.


If you are considering purchasing a virtual instrument, and don't already own it, then you should seriously consider choosing Omnisphere, especially after this recent update. As you have hopefully learned, Omnisphere version 1.5 has features that sets it apart from other virtual instruments on the market, and most importantly, it is capable of producing some absolutely phenomenal sounds. I'm going to finish this blog with a video from NAMM 2011 that demonstrates the new features of Omnisphere 1.5, and should hopefully further back up some of the points I have mentioned in this article, as well as introducing you to some of the sounds that it can produce...enjoy!

Note that this is quite a long video - over 21 minutes in fact, so if you don't have all the time in the world, I've broken up the videos into sections so you can pick and choose which parts interest you. If you have the time though, it is definitely worth watching!

• 0:50 - New Column View.
• 2:08 - Omnisphere preset examples.
• 5:00 - Harmonia with audio examples.
• 6:16 - Waveshaper with audio examples.
• 7:23 - Granular Synthesiser with granular visualiser and audio examples (check from 9:20 to hear how granulation can alter a musical source in an amazing way!)
• 10:33 - Omni TR iPad application (with example Omnisphere sounds from 11:39).
• 16:31 - The Orb with audio examples.

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