Burns Easily in the Sun
TAL is a name that has been associated for awhile now with free professional level vsti's and plugins. The developer/programmer, Patrick Kunz, has developed several critically acclaimed synths including the TAL U-NO-64, TAL-Elek7ro, TAL-Bassmaker and most recently, the epic TAL-Noisemaker. If there's one thing everyone who has used his instruments and plugins can agree upon, it's that they're–to put it bluntly–fucking awesome.
TAL's latest product, the first he's placed a price tag on, is the TAL U-NO-LX. Like his previous product offerings, the U-NO-LX (LX) doesn't disappoint.
A Faithful Recreation
The LX is a virtual synth that bears a remarkable resemblance in sonic properties to the Alpha Juno 2. To say that TAL has captured the subtle nuances of the original synth would be quite an understatement. After scrolling through the many presets and experimenting, it's easy to hear that a lot of time and effort went into fine tuning/calibrating the overall sound to closely match the original. Lush pads, thick basses and memorable Juno flavored strings can be dialed in with great results. As with all TAL products, the sound is quite amazing.
TAL has also added flexibility through the inclusion of a Midi learn function and enabling DAW automation for all controls found on the synth.
A couple other nice features include (see the product page for the full list):
- Self resonating zero feedback delay filter (24dB LP).
- Filter range up to ~40kHz.
- Arpeggiator with different sync modes (host, midi clock, not on).
The LX GUI is definitely TAL styled: there are no digital readouts, no visual scopes–simply switches, buttons and sliders. In the typical "analog" tradition, you need to craft your sound by playing with the components as opposed to drawing wave tables and punching in values. This lends itself to using your ears more than your eyes when sculpting your own sounds. The CPU load was quite light (I'm using a 2011 MacBook Pro i5 with 8GB RAM), with only very slight increases when applying chorus or LFO parameters. It's definitely not near the CPU demand of DIVA or Razor, but CPU load will obviously increase by adding more voices–but that holds true with any soft synth.
On the top level you'll find a Digital Controlled Oscillator (DCO) equipped with the usual suspects: PWM, SubOsc, etc.), followed by a fantastic sounding High Pass Filter (HPF) and a Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO) with additional components (Filter, Res, etc.). The second level contains your master sections as well as envelope/LFO/FX. The bottom end houses that Portamento, MIDI assignments, as well the Control and Arp. sections. Everything is laid out for you upfront–no need to dig through tabs and menus.
It May Not Be For You
That "Juno" sound is definitely a very distinct one, and there may be some that may not like this synth simply for that reason. Personally, I found that using the midi learn function and assigning it to your mod wheel to the filter (either HPF or the actual VCF) in addition to throwing some overdrive/distortion plugins on the instrument channel really made the sounds distinct & filthy. So if you are on the fence about buying the synth because you don't want that "just another Juno" sound, know that a bit of creativity can real twist the sonic properties to your liking. However, underneath it all it's still essentially a Juno sounding synth.
Others may not like the synth do the fact that the interface is too simple for their tastes, lacking some of the flashy features like Zeta+2 or Razor for that matter.
About The Mod Wheel
A small pet peeve of mine is when a synth doesn't have a default assignment for the ModWheel parameter (ahem, Massive). This holds true for the LX, but you can quickly change that by using MIDI Learn and assigning the wheel yourself. It's a global change, so it will stay in tact even while your browsing presets for shits and grins. A lot of the sounds really benefit from the assignment, as some of those mild bass plucks can quickly turn into heavy madness–especially when exploiting the filter sections.
Try it Out
TAL has been generous enough to offer a fully functioning demo (preset saving disabled) for potential users. Before buying it (intro price $35), I would advise you to atleast try out the demo. If you're like me and enjoy the Alpha Juno 2 sound and its possibilities, you'll more than likely fall in love rather quickly. However, if that sound isn't your thing, you may wish to pass on this.
I like the synth. At first I wasn't really taken back, but after messing about with it for a couple days, I've come to love the instant sonic satisfaction from simply messing about with the interface. The many presets are inspiring and really help you understand the ins and outs of the synth (not that there's a lot of signal tracing to be had in the first place), especially the arpeggiator. (Quick note: If working at DnB tempos, you will most likely have to mess with the Arpeggiator rate so you can actually hear it taking place).
The overall sound is equal to a virtual synth worth at least three times as much as the LX. Admittedly, I may be a bit biased because I've used so many Kunz products in the past. However, one thing that I can say without any bias is that the sheer quality of sound and the attractive price is proof that Patrick Kunz is a developer who is in this business because he's truly passionate about creating great sounding instruments and not becoming an overnight millionaire...and that's a developer who is deserving of my time and money.
Rating: 4.5/5 It's not a game changer, but what it's capable of doing it does so extremely well.