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.
- 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.