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Steinberg HALion Sonic virtual workstation review

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Hey whasup, back with another one for you.

Many people I talk to, especially those that come from the hardware background, are always looking for an instrument that can provide the variety and speed of access to quality sounds that you get when using hardware workstations like the fantom, triton, or motif.

There’s been a few attempts, but many fall victim to slow loading times, quirky workflow issues, or just plain don’t have the sound quality that a person is looking for.

One of the more popular “workstation” type plugins for years has been Hypersonic 2 from Steinberg.

Now I will admit, I have heard quite a bit about it, how fast the sounds load, how usable they are, and how light it is on the cpu, but I never used it myself.  It came out when I was all about hardware…so I never paid any attention to it.

Well some years later, Steinberg has decided to re-visit this virtual workstation landscape by releasing HALion Sonic.

With 12gb of content, and sound design handled by the same team that designs sounds for the Yamaha Motif…this thing has sparked quite an interest.

You know I had to check it out!

So what is HALion Sonic?

The basic idea of a workstation keyboard is for it to be able to provide everything you need to produce full music tracks. You get keys, synths, sequencing, fx, etc.

You may wonder how something like that would translate to the virtual world, where all this stuff can be handled by various plugins, daws, and fx.

But people still look for the quick tweaking, ease of use, layering, sound creation, and overall sonic quality that these types of keyboards have to offer.

HALion Sonic is a virtual version of this type of instrument.  It focuses on many of the things that make a “workstation” desirable. It’s easy to navigate, easy to edit, has a huge library of sounds, useful fx, and even arpeggios and musical phrases.

It is a workstation in pretty much every sense of the term, besides not having it’s own full sequencer (that would be SICK for real!!!)

Keys, synths, drums, strings, brass, bass, guitars, mallets, atmospheres, pads, woodwinds….all parts of the music production sound spectrum in one location.

Quick Specs

  • content: 12gb library, over 1200 programs
  • engines: disk streaming/sample mode, drum mode, sliced loop mode, virtual analog synth mode
  • price: $249.99

How does it sound?

It sounds useful, if that can describe what I feel when playing it.

Instantly upon opening it you can just start playing and falling in love with the sounds.  And there are tons of sounds in here.  To my ears, that have a more “ready to go” sound than many sample based workstations seem to have.

A lot of times, you run into a “digital sterility” when using sample based workstations, but I think the architecture of the layers, fx, and articulations make for a very impressive sound out of the box.  Of course you can tweak it but it just sounds good enough to load up and go without worrying about busing through extra fx before you can even play.

For a long time folks look to something like Nexus or SampleTank to be that “workstation” and while both are nice instruments, I just don’t think they can touch the quality and usability of sounds that come out of HALion Sonic…to me the sounds are more authentic, not over-hyped and definitely not dull. They seem to have the right balance of great sampling and great programming, with good use of internal fx.

And though I find the various acoustic instruments very good, to me, the stand out of the product is the virtual analog synth engine, it just sounds thick and edgy. I could really see folks using this for the synth engine alone.

It has 3 oscillators, a sub oscillator, a ring modulator and a noise generator…yes, that means you can use all of these sound generation modules per layer….in addition to the tons of fx routing, arps, phrases, you see where I’m going right?

The guitars are clean and sparkling, well except the evil distorted electric ones!  The strings are lush and the keys are dynamic enough for most uses.  The acoustic bass was surprisingly very good in my opinion, I really liked it.

Sure you can find specialized instruments for each category of sound, but I’ve yet to come across such a complete library, sound quality wise, that covers so much ground, and does such a good job at it.

What’s the bottom line?

Well, honestly, I think they accomplished what they set out to do.  Create a very diverse instrument that is easy to use and actually has sounds that you would want to use “as-is”.

I must note that the category of ethnic instruments is SEVERELY lacking, and I, like many users, expect to find a decent selection of instruments in that category.  Sure you can find a few scattered in other categories but overall I’m surprised at the lack of content in this area.  I assume that will be made up for by one of the expansions they keep hinting at on the product pages.

Another thing to note is that unlike Hypersonic 2, everything isn’t “instant” loading, especially some of the more detailed acoustic instruments.  While it’s quite a bit faster than most sample based workstations, you do notice the load time and I’d like to see some updates to the engine that can allow instruments to load even faster.

One more thing I notice was the cpu usage, there seems to be overall a nice bit of cpu usage, I would attribute that to the use of internal fx and such. It’s not a cpu hog by any means, but it seams there could be some tweaking to the engine overall to reduce this even more.

Overall, it’s a great product and it definitely has the workstation feel.  The sounds are useful, inspiring, and fun to play.

As it stands now, I give this a 4.5 out of 5 subs,  I do see some room for improvement but can’t deny the fact that this product delivers a lot of what people are looking for in an all around instrument. I didn’t even go deep into the “flex phrase” library, which is more than just your common arp engine.

I plan to do more videos showing you more of the sounds, as well as the various features, which are just too vast to cover in one video.  Steinberg definitely raised the bar for “virtual workstations” and I’m looking forward to see how they continue to improve on the foundation the laid.

And to be honest, I’m also looking forward to new challengers :)

Go on over and watch the product videos or listen to the demo songs, you can even download a list of factory sounds on the HALion Sonic page.

leave me a comment below, let me know what you think about HALion Sonic or virtual workstation instruments in general.

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31 Responses to “Steinberg HALion Sonic virtual workstation review”

  1. Uh oh. This is a huge improvement. Do you know if the new Halion handles key switching like kontakt does? Nice review as always!

    • saintjoe says:

      @David Whiteside, well, this is only HALion Sonic, it’s not actually the new HALion 4 which is still being worked on. This is more of a workstation than a full fledge sampler like HALion I think.

      I don’t have any experience with the other products, this is my first time dealing with a Steinberg product so…first impression is good :)

  2. Ahhh! That make sense. I was gonna say, this looked alot more robust than Halion 3!

    • saintjoe says:

      @David Whiteside, yeah I don’t know how it compares to HALion 4, this is more of a follow-up to their Hypersonic instrument than it is HALion, I would expect HALion 4 to be pretty deep :)

  3. jaidon says:

    i will have this soooonnnn

  4. Metatron72 says:

    Sounds good man. It seems like a fair amount of quality sounds for the price. Personally I have no more ports for another dongle, I wish manufacturers could have agreed to universal standard.

    • saintjoe says:

      @Metatron72, I feel you man! That’s why I have a usb hub specifically for dongles :) Takes up one port on the tower, and I have space for dongles.

      It sucks though, it seems only some companies use the same. I guess that means if one of your dongles breaks you’re not all the way down lol.

  5. Kruz says:

    As If I need another VSTi…hahaha, but dang, this is pretty sick..I’l hold out for a bit but def will keep on the “list”. Thanks for the review. I like this. Peace !!!!!

    • saintjoe says:

      @Kruz, I know right? Lol…I just gotta show what’s good out here man lol, most of us have our “go to” stuff anyway lol…sometimes we need to swap/renew so I just like to keep the site current with the goodies lol.

      • Kruz says:

        @saintjoe,

        Most def, I ain’t complaining, Im making fun at my VSTi hoarding methods…I might need intervention…hahaha, keep the reviews coming bro…blessings.

  6. Funk Bandit says:

    yo the sounds are nice that what you’ll expect from the guys who invented vst’s . It most definitely an updated version of hypersonic 2 even the gui looks similar . I love Hypersonic 2 its just out this world. I have tried loads of samplers recently but I keep going back to Hypersonic 2 for it sound quality and easy to use . I know it is a bit dated compared to what on the market but it really beats most of the vsts out there . I will definitely check this one out as it looks pretty sick and from what I have seen so far, this might be the successor to my tried and trusted hypersonic 2. peace

    • saintjoe says:

      @Funk Bandit, I know many folks who swear by Hypersonic 2 for the same reasons you mentioned. I never had a chance to try it out so I don’t know the glory of it lol…but yeah, this is basically the “new hypersonic” they did some nice stuff in here man.

  7. KILLAHCANE says:

    Appreciate the review my friend! Me and my crew have been following this product for months now.. Esp. since Hypersonic only worked for 32bit systems and was no longer for sell. Since this is a work station, my real question is Do I invest in this, BPM, or wait for HALion 4. My main aim is high quality sounds, large selection so sounds, and quick workflow… Any input to help a brother out saintjoe?

    • saintjoe says:

      @KILLAHCANE, Okay so…BPM isn’t really part of this equation compared to the other two,unless you want to do your sequencing in BPM as well. Reason I say that, all the UVI and Motu sounds can be played through the free UVI workstation…and those sounds are very good in my opinion. As far as HALion 4, I’m not sure, it’s being worked on but I’ve never used HALion or any other Steinberg product before this one. So UVI already has the expansions on the market (all work in BPM as well), and HALion Sonic is new, with expansions promised. Both of those work as native 64 bit plugins which is dope.

      I can say anything about HALion 4, since I know nothing about it as a product, not even the previous versions. HALion Sonic will be cheaper out the gate than buying all the UVI/Motu sounds so..that could be an option just to have access to a bunch of stuff out the box. However, I’m becoming a huge fan of the whole Motu/Uvi lineup, really good sounds, I need to try Mach 5 too lol.

      I say any way you look at it, HALion Sonic is probably a good deal, plus I would imagine the support is going to be pretty good too as far as future development and sound expansions. And both this and UVI/Motu stuff requires a dongle so lol, no difference there.

  8. KILLAHCANE says:

    No Doubt… Appreciate that Saintjoe! Anytime I drop cash money.. I try to inform myself on what i’m getting myself into.. And seeing how you are now the Online HipHop Authority Supreme Guru, your input is very much valued.

  9. MK AKA DA DADDY OF DA LOU says:

    50 THUMBS UP JOE (IT’S DA TRUTH)

  10. Marcus Manderson says:

    Saintjoe,

    Great sounds. Great price too!!! Wonder if some of those sounds will be thrown into the new Yamaha Motif XF? (Even though one can save a couple of thousand getting the Halion VST. LOL. I am a Motif guy though). Thanks!…

  11. Marcus Manderson says:

    LOL. Let me be there when you do the review…

  12. Marcus Manderson says:

    LOL. I might have to hold out for the rack version. I still got my original Motif going strong. LOL…

  13. Inverted314 says:

    So is this a motif-in-a-box like the marketing would make it believe?
    I’m looking for an all in one plugin. I don’t want a bunch of confusing VSTs I want one with everything I need. I really like Kontakt but it’s $400, and the whole Komplete is $500!

    I like Komplete but I feel like I would be overwhelmed and never get anything done just because it’s too good of a value and theres SOO many sounds. I’m really looking for a motif in a box to write songs too. Maybe I should just get a motif; but hardware workstations are ridiculous expensive. I wish they would come out with a Maschine with keys. Hybrid workstation. I’d buy that RIGHT now.

    • saintjoe says:

      @Inverted314, if you want kontakt I advise you to just buy komplete, you can never have too many sounds and for 100 bucks more it just doesn’t make sense to buy kontakt alone lol. But, as far as a “motif in a box” I don’t think anything is quite there yet, but many products are all around, kontakt, halion sonic, nexus, emulator x3, yellow tools independence, etc. Sounds like halion sonic or nexus may be closer to what you’re looking for, but you can’t forget about how expandable kontakt is, so many third party libraries for it and such.

  14. Inverted314 says:

    Yeah for sure. They should drop it to like $100 lol.
    I like all of Kontakts libraries. I was thinking if I got Kore 2 and put all the Komplete sounds in it that would probably be as close to a Motif in a box as I could get.

    • saintjoe says:

      @Inverted314, lol @ dropping it to 100 bucks, dunno bout that lol. Nothing is really a “motif in a box” if you want a motif I say get one, the newest versions hook up to your computer and run like a plugin, otherwise just look for stuff that has the sounds you want.

  15. Emiliano says:

    Hey what’s up Joe, I need some quick consulting too man…

    Well basically, I was in the market for Komplete 7 too: there’s no doubt it’s the best value available, as far as VSTs. And then, we all love NI and their products/sounds: high quality stuff.

    But, as I am mainly a Kore Player user right now (and that has been just discontinued otherwise I probably would have got it), I was wondering if it would have been better to try something different, just to have a bit of variety in the arsenal. This seems pretty good, and probably what I’m looking for: all-in-one, large library of high quality sounds, possibility of tweaking but still easy to use. Can you confirm it? Just in case, what are the alternatives, and your opinions on ‘em? I checked out Nexus and Omnisphere, as well, but probably at that price range it’s better to get Komplete (which I will at some point)…

    Thanks fam.

    • saintjoe says:

      @Emiliano, Komplete is the best bang for the buck, just depends on if you want all that. Nexus is cool, I don’t have it but want to get it. I also love Alchemy, it’s dope. Omnisphere is sick too. halion sonic is cool, but I don’t find myself using it as much as I thought, it’s cool but just not deep enough for me, it doesn’t do much that others do not so I rarely use it anymore.

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