UVI Falcon 2 by Lady Gaia
Falcon 2 at a Glance
Falcon 2, referred to hereafter simply as Falcon, is a modestly priced instrument with a lot of range and occasional surprising depths. It features a wide range of high-quality algorithms and comes with a creative array of presets that showcase what it’s capable of.
The diverse range of synthesis techniques is ideal for those who appreciate the kind of complexity you can most effectively visualize and manage in software. If you’re looking to construct a drum kit where every key uses a different signal path, including round-robin variation not just among samples but of synthesis strategies? Or hoping to craft a patch where chords are automatically spread out over time, and to modulate that spread with a looped envelope? Falcon can do all that and a lot more besides. It rewards time spent crafting expressive sounds and evolving soundscapes.
It might not be my first recommendation for a beginner unless they bring an analytical mindset borne of a technical background in another field. That same conceptual complexity may also work against those who feel that technology quickly gets between them and their music. Both groups may prefer instruments that start out with a well-defined character, a simpler signal path, and knob-per-function design. It’s also possible they’d find inspiration in presets that are bundled with Falcon, or available in numerous packs from UVI. Each one exposes ways to tweak the core sound through clearly labelled macro knobs.
It’s refreshing to see a major update provided free of charge to existing customers, but in reality the major version number bump is as much about recognizing all the incremental improvements since 1.0 as it as the major additions with this release. There have been thirty-two releases since Falcon 1.0, so anyone who hasn’t looked at Falcon in a while may be quite surprised to see how much has changed.
Getting Started: Installation
It’s worth reading the manual for the recommended installation process using UVI Portal. I charged in blindly by downloading the standalone installer, which is presented alongside a RAR encoded preset package. It turns out the documented path is much simpler, and it leads into material you’ll want to read to get comfortable with the software in any case.
Falcon uses iLok for copy protection, which is something I normally try to avoid. I was pleasantly surprised that it was less painful than expected, as UVI allows allows host-locked authorization rather than requiring an iLok dongle.
Falcon Boot Camp: Documentation
The first 75 pages are a well-written introduction to the synthesis capabilities and user interface conventions of Falcon, and are well worth at least skimming before sitting down to use the product. You may want to go even further, digging into 30 pages of tutorials that build sounds from scratch while touching on core concepts that will come in handy when you’re ready to dig deeper.
The final 175 pages form a terse reference that briefly covers the huge array of available oscillators, effects, event processors, and modulators. Each module is presented independently, with levels of detail that vary from informative to somewhat sketchy.
Getting Oriented in Falcon
Falcon offers a broad toolkit suitable for learning about and experimenting with a wide range of synthesis techniques in one coherent package. The basic structure and terminology used is as follows:
- One Multi is a complete multi-timbral configuration of the instrument, consisting of one or more Parts.
- Each Part can be assigned to an independent MIDI channel. Every Part is actually a reference to an independently saved Program, allowing the same Program to show up across a variety of Multis.
- A Program consists of a collection of Layers, all of which are triggered together.
- The Layer is a collection of Keygroups. It also determines whether sounds trigger monophonically or polyphonically, with unison and portamento options. A layer can add restrictions on polyphony if desired.
- Down at the Keygroup is where you get to the process of producing sounds with one or more Oscillators. A Keygroup can trigger on key down or up, can be delayed to trigger on beat or bar, and the oscillators contained within can all sound together or be chosen among in a predictable cycle or random order.
- Oscillators produce raw sound through a variety of synthesis and sample playback techniques.
- Effects alter sound on either a per-voice or summed bus. In Falcon terminology filters are considered to be effects.
- Modulators range from LFOs and envelopes to external MIDI CC control, and provide real-time change to virtually any parameter.
- Script Processors are programmable means for changing MIDI input by filtering out, altering, or creating additional events. Arpeggiation is just one of many creative applications for Script Processors in Falcon.
When it comes to the raw sound of Falcon, it all starts with an Oscillator…
Oscillators, the Birthplace of Sound
Falcon provides an impressive array of Oscillator types, perfect for experimental sound design or exploring unfamiliar territory without committing to expensive hardware in order to get into esoteric sonic territory.
The options start with a variety of pure synthesis techniques:
- Analog and Analog Stack offer a familiar array of clean, aliasing-free waveforms as a solid starting point.
- Wavetable synthesis starts with a wide array of wave tables as well as single-cycle waves, and offers some unique tools for altering the raw character of these waves.
- Additive synthesis with up to 256 algorithmically generated partials.
- Karplus-Strong style models of resonant plucks start with an initial sample to excite a complex physical model.
- Drum modeling combines colored noise with a pitched component.
- Four-operator FM with adjustable feedback.
- Dedicated noise sources in mono and stereo select among fifteen familiar and exotic noise models.
- Basic organ modeling with adjustable percussion.
The Analog Oscillator begins with saw, square, triangle, sine, noise, or pulse waves. Pulse width modulation provides continuous shaping for all of these waves, and hard sync can be simulated. Oscillators act entirely independently in Falcon, so the master sync frequency is specified in terms of a frequency offset, either in cents or semitones. Multiple waves in unison with stereo spread can be automatically generated using a single Oscillator. Likewise, stacks of up to eight waves of different shapes can be defined together with a single Analog Stack Oscillator. While you won’t find classic analog oscillators modeled in minute detail down to saturation and drift, you do have a wide range of tools at your disposal to bring otherwise stable oscillators to life.
The Wavetable Oscillator starts with a traditional wavetable. Falcon ships with a wide variety of examples, and custom tables can be imported trivially. The wave index can be used to select among distinct waves, or can fade smoothly between them. FM and phase distortion also form part of this oscillator, further adding to the creative possibilities. Unison with stereo spread and detune capabilities rounds out a very capable oscillator.
Sound exhaustive? It’s actually just a good start, as Falcon also has a variety of additional Oscillator types dedicated to sample playback:
- Conventional pitch shifting by altering the sample rate used to play back samples.
- Automatic time slicing for beats and other rhythmic content.
- Time stretching as an alternate pitching shifting technique.
- Granular playback.
Sculpting Further with Effects
If the array of Oscillator types seemed exhaustive, with more than 90 Effects algorithms there’s just no way to do them all justice here. They run the gamut from the familiar time domain effects (delay, reverb, chorus, flanger, and phaser) to panning effects, equalizer, distortion/drive, and dynamics processing. Delays can be synced to a clock source in familiar divisions including dotted and triplet subdivisions.
The effects include 18 filters that cover familiar low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, peak, and notch territory. There are also specific emulations like the Sallen-Key and Xpander filters, and more exotic fare like the Vowel filter which provides formant processing sweepable between selectable vowel sounds. Combined with a little subtle compression and drive, it’s easy to achieve punchy parts up there with the best virtual analog options available.
By default, Effects are chained sequentially. Keygroup effects are applied per-voice, and subsequently summed for processing through insert effects at the Layer, Program, and Part levels in sequence. To run Effects in parallel, a logical grouping called an Effect Rack with multiple parallel chains can be added anywhere an Effect can be used, and at the Multi level there are four additional buses available in the form of master effects sends.
Bringing it to Life with Modulators
Virtually every Oscillator and Effect parameter in Falcon can be modulated, and the array of modulation sources is impressive. Multiple LFO and envelope types allow shaping with a lot of nuance. For example, the Multi Envelope allows an arbitrary number of segments with can be individually adjusted from logarithmic through linear to exponential in shape. The Step Envelope enables a repeating sequence of modulation values that can be smoothed if desired.
The effect of all these modulators can get complex, making some of the creature comforts associated with them especially welcome. They can be individually disabled without deleting them (also true of effects and oscillators), and the effect they’re having on parameters are animated in real time - with a moving dot around the parameter knob for each distinct value when multiple voices are moving independently.
External sources like MIDI CC input can also be treated as modulation sources, and Falcon also makes it easy to create a page of easy adjustments to your Programs they call Macros. One Macro can affect a range of individual parameters, so they can affect dramatic changes in a sound. They show up as screen of knobs that can be labelled and arranged to taste to let you surface important ways that a sound can be altered without digging deep to understand the hierarchy I’ve described above.
The presets included with Falcon, and presumably those available for sale as well, make good use of Macros to make it easy to explore variations on a sound. These are often tied to MIDI CC so the mod or pitch wheel can be used to bring a sound to life. If you’ve seen Yamaha’s SuperKnob for the Montage or MODX demonstrated to great effect, you can think of Macro along similar lines - but you can create a number of them and the ability lay them out visually makes tweaking an instrument self-explanatory.
Going Beyond with Script Processors
Anything that transforms or generates MIDI events in Falcon is considered to be a Script Processor. The most familiar example is the arpeggiator, but triggered sequences and micro tuning are other helpful facilities built into Falcon that make use of scripted behaviors.
Beyond these conventional uses, there’s a full LUA-based scripting language for the adventurous. If that sounds like more depth than you’re likely to explore, it may be a relief that there are a variety of scripts provided that you can use as-is to produce effects like spacing out notes in a chord to simulate strumming.
Taking a Step Back: Limitations and Quirks
While flexible, Falcon isn’t a truly modular system, nor are all the component parts uniformly deep (some Oscillator types, like the Organ simulation, are pretty bare bones.) Where Falcon’s architecture excels is making it easy to layer numerous sounds together, stacking individual parts as deep as your CPU allows. Each of these parts remains independent, with no cross-modulation of audio signals and a largely fixed signal path. The lack of oscillator cross-modulation is a hint that the modulation capabilities are strictly sub-audio rate. The classic and Parametric LFO types have maximum rates of 20Hz and 50Hz, respectively.
The number of options in Falcon can make it hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. For example: with so many filters, it takes some experimentation to figure out the difference between them and the naming isn’t especially helpful. SVF isn’t a continuous state-variable filter but rather a discrete choice between low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch, and peak. So what’s the difference in character between this filter and Analog Filter? The latter seems to a ladder filter emulation, but that still leaves the question of how steeply either of them cuts. It takes some experimentation to figure this out because it isn’t actually documented anywhere, either.
As Falcon has grown over time, it’s evident that in many cases a new Effect or Modulator is added rather than modifying an existing one to add more capabilities. This is doubtless welcome for compatibility reasons, but it does make the product a little less approachable for someone coming at it for the first time. Thankfully, many of the oldest Effects going back to earlier UVI products like MachFive are categorized as “legacy” to make their history clearer.
The user interface is attractive and reasonably laid out, but there’s no hiding the complexity. It can be tricky to find your way around a moderately complex preset and a large screen can be a godsend when trying to visualize everything.
Falcon serves as a broad, largely neutral palette to draw from, leaving it up to you to shape the results to your will. While it’s not hard to point out additional features that might be welcome, the huge variety of what is present makes it a compelling package in its own right. It’s extremely capable and sounds great, so if you’ve been eager to tap into a blend of virtual analog, wavetables, and granular capabilities for your next project - Falcon can definitely bring all of that to the table and a lot more besides.
Review Copy Provided
UVI provided a copy of Falcon 2 for the purposes of this review. They were offered an opportunity to review for factual errors, but had no editorial control over the content or final scores.