Umlaut Audio PADS by Diogo C
- Product: PADS
- Developer: Umlaut Audio
- Format: Kontakt Instrument Library (compatible with the free player)
- DRM: Native Instruments Service Center
- Price: $149 (US Dollars, MSRP)
The scope: Umlaut Audio presents PADS, a Kontakt library set to provide great sounding pads with minimum effort. Before we go further, it’s important to highlight that PADS is installed on Kontakt as a library but it is in fact one single instrument that takes advantage of Kontakt’s snapshot facilities to provide its presets. PADS starts with an upper panel with two layers where sound sources are loaded, each layer equipped with an attack-release envelope, multimode filter, tune, volume and pan. The filter has many options for high, low and bandpass, including some classic models of Moog and Oberheim filters. In the middle of these layers there is a layer crossfade knob that allows for blending the layers or isolating them, along with layer link option that links the envelope and filter. There’s also random button that loads a random source on each layer. Sound sources are mostly synthetic and somewhat processed, with some hints of organic material, but they’re most in the ethereal-dreamy side of things. Although most sound sources are “mix ready” they’re also not overly produced, which leaves some good room for stacking PADS along with other synths or instruments. The layers panel can be swapped for a “mod” section, where we have three modulators that can be assigned to the layers’ filters, pan, tune or to the same parameters but modulation both layers at the same time. The modulators can be set to envelope with ADSR plus velocity, a variable-shape LFO with tempo synced or a step sequencer with adjustable pattern length and variable rate. This sequencer is triggered by each note played and it’s tempo synced to the DAW/host. PADS allows us to freely pick any combination of modulators here, so we can have two LFOs and one sequencer, one envelope follower and two sequencers or three LFOs and so on. Each modulator also has its dedicated “amount” control, which controls the modulation strength. Below the layers and modulation panels there’s a master effects sections, featuring a four-band EQ, tape saturation, lo-fi (bit crusher), distortion, modulation (chorus/flanger), stereo syncable delay and a convolution reverb. Overall PADS is a concise instrument that successfully follows its premise, keeping everything accessible and providing a pleasant pad-making experience.
Sound quality: PADS has some interesting sounds to offer, it’s definitely very well suited for electronic-based genres but I can see it working on some other “modern” productions as well. For electronic music (which is usually what I noodle with) I think it does quite well, especially when paired with a “regular” synth. I missed some of the basic building blocks for pads, such as saws and squares and other waveforms, so I paired it with my Korg Minilogue to bring those elements in, so I had the Minilogue keyboard also triggering the MIDI for PADS, and the results were very good as I could obtain that extra fizz on the top end and have more weight to the sound with the Minilogue, with PADS doing the more ethereal. One aspect that bothered me a bit was that some sound sources felt a bit “boxy” (for the lack of a better word), with lots of information in the midrange but not a lot happening in the lows and highs, and this is where the Minilogue came in to the rescue. In this regard, PADS feels like a bit of double edged sword - on its own it might feel a bit incomplete, but on the other hand it makes for a great complement for other synths as the sounds that PADS can offer are not heavily processed or overly produced as many instruments are these days.
Ease of use: This is not a complex instrument, in fact it’s quite uncomplicated and mostly easy to operate if not for the small fonts and odd interface color choices, which makes the parameter labels hard to read and the overall experience a bit annoying sometimes as I struggled to read what each control is doing. Fortunately there aren’t many controls and most are very familiar, like the envelope generators and modulators. Speaking of familiar things, there could be more familiar subdivisions for the sound sources, the two major categories (Pads and Overtones) are a bit too broad so some further subcategories would be welcome and help its premise of offering an easy to use instrument. Besides those issues PADS is mostly easy to use and a good choice of instrument if you want pads done quick. It’s also pretty easy on the system resources side, it’s very light both on the CPU and on the storage footprint, which is always a good thing. The provided documentation also does its job to explains all controls in satisfactory manner and delivery/installation were a breeze with the Connect app. One final aspect to praise the “single Kontakt instrument with snapshots” approach instead having a bunch of small instruments gathered on a library or folder, and this is a good choice in my opinion since it speeds up the loading times despite having to take a slightly longer first load as there’s zero waiting when changing the sound sources.
Features: The core concept and feature set here is interesting, not exactly groundbreaking but it fulfills on its premise of being an accessible and straightforward pad-maker. There are some areas which could be improved nonetheless, and I’d personally appreciate a better envelope (at least with ADSR) on each layer, per-layer effects, independent/sync modes for the step sequencer and being able to route individual outputs for each layer would also be cool. I also missed some sampled synthesizers/waveforms, strings, choirs, bowed instruments and a noise generator, as these are all great building blocks for pads and could vastly extend the possibilities. You can kind of get these sounds with some of the available sources but having straight raw samples for them would be great. I also wouldn’t mind having four layers instead of two, but I’d be happy with two if the points made above are addressed.
Bang for buck: With so many offerings out there in this category it’s getting harder and harder to make a good case for a particular product these days, but if good sounding pads done quickly is what you’re looking for then PADS is worth checking out. In my personal experience I found PADS to be a great complement for more conventional synths, which was the case with my Minilogue and I can see many virtual instruments playing this role as well, including free ones, so maybe that’s the best case to make for PADS - it really shines when running along a regular analog-style synth, adding interesting textures and an extra dimension to them. I can also see PADS being a good option for newcomers, since it is very easy to approach it, but on the other hand it is not exactly cheap, and I would recommend doing some good research since a demo is not available. PADS fulfills the goal, but it’s impossible to deny some of the shortcomings.
Recommended for: Producers working on modern or electronic-based genres, especially newcomers. PADS can also be useful for film/game soundtracks.
*Can be an interesting complement to regular synths.
*Uncomplicated to use.
*Compatible with the free player and NKS-ready.
*Lacks some further depth.