Main Features

Factory library of 500 presets


One Expansion Pack “Classic Analog Synths” – with 100 more presets


40gb of sample content


Revolutionary Pulse Engine (tempo synched)


Brilliant context based browser to find patches quickly


0-4 pulse engines per patch


Access to step sequencers, arpeggiators, loops and LFOs when creating pulses


Global and insert effects per engine


Advanced editing for fine tuning synth paramaters

Signal at a Glance

Pros: Infinitely Customizeable, Groundbreaking Pulse Engine, Ultra Modern Sound, Polyrhythms!


Cons: Tons of parameters to tweak, but like a good video game, it is easy to play but takes time to master!


List Price: $199


Website: www.output.com

Introduction

With the plethora of virtual instruments coming out every year, it is difficult to rise above this crowded sea. Output’s Signal clearly made its mark on the industry when it was nominated for Music Tech’s Gear Of The Year award for 2015.  Having had the chance to play with it for over a month now, I can see why it has received such high praise and why it has been dubed “The Worlds Most Powerful Pulse Engine.”  Let’s see if it lives up to all the accolades!

What is a pulse engine, you ask?  If it sounds like a weapon from the new Fallout 4 game, you might not be far off.  One thing is for sure, if you have this weapon in your arsenal, you will not loose many battles with creativity and you will be on your way to making up to the minute sounding music for your games!

Signal is beautiful.  Not only the sound, but also the user interface.  All employees at Output are musicians, including the graphic artists, and it really shows.

Here is a super quick intro to Signal:

And here is a Battle cue I created using Signal and some orchestral and choir beds….

 

There are four main parts to the interface, shown here:

overview better

Earlier, I sidestepped the question – what is a pulse engine?  We will get to that later (see what I did there?)

First, let’s take a listen to my interview with the CEO of Output, Gregg Lehrman, who got his start working with Hans Zimmer, and whose own compositions are featured in film, TV, video games and trailers including Avatar, The Avengers, Noah, Call of Duty and League of Legends. In the interview, we go into his background a bit, the founding of Output, and then dive into some fascinating details about Signal:

 

Two Sources 

Let’s go to the source, in this case, the sound sources.  There are in fact, two sound sources which can be pulled from over 40 GB of samples for both synth and natural elements as shown here:

and synth instruments, as shown here:

This is what gives Signal its unique sound – the merging and melding of synthetic and natural sources, as you can hear for yourself in this video where I just run through a dozen or so presets ranging from aggressive to tranquil:

To really hear how the different sources affect the sound, I focused on one patch, Tight Pluck, and then modified the source instruments to show some of the possible variations in this video:

 

Pulse Engine

Ok, now I am ready to explain the Pulse Engine.  At the highest level, there are two Pulse Engines, A and B, one for each sound source, as shown here:

pulse engines

However, each Pulse Engine can have up to 2 Rhythm Engines, which can be toggled and morphed between one another on many patches.  The Main Rhythm can be of four types, Step Sequencers, Arpeggiators, Loops and LFOs  (called Waves by Signal) as shown here:

pulse engine 2

The “2nd Rhythm” can be of either Wave or Step types.  You cannot use loops or arpeggiators on the 2nd Rhythm as those two affect the underlying sample and need to be applied first in the chain.

Each of these Rhythm Engines have tons of presets, and you can also customize each and every one of them for near infinite variety.

Here is a demo video showing how to create some cool polyrhythms by tweaking the pulse engines of each sound source in a patch called Tribute:

 

Insert Effects (and Global Effects)

Each Pulse Engine has insert effects (and there are Global effects too!) For example, the EQ effect can be set for each Pulse Engine, and a global EQ can be set as well.

Effects - 2 engines

And here is a screenshot showing all the possible effects that you can add to a patch:

effects all on

These effects cannot be controlled by an LFO (like you can do in Massive, for example) but the knobs can all be automated by assigning MIDI to them.  The Reverb Signal uses is a proprietary convolution reverb, not the standard Kontakt reverb.

Loop Mode

Step, Arpeggios, and Wave (LFO) are all pretty easy to understand, but Loop requires some more explanation. The Loop mode is essentially sample-based pulsing.  When in Loop mode, the source samples are sliced by a tempo-synched fraction of the sample, such as 1/2, 1/4, 1/16 and so on.  You can also tell the engine when to start the slice, as a % of that slice.  As you change the tempo of your song, this will have different effects on the sound – for example a 1/16 of an 80 BPM song is much longer than a 1/16th of a 180 BPM song…so I found it exhilarating to play around with tempo changes in the song just to see how smoothly the pulse engine adjusted to those changes…

Polyrhythms

One of the most heady features of Signal is the ability to create intense and complex polyrhythms.  This is what gives Signal its cutting edge ultra modern sound.  When layering multiple instances of custom Signal Patches I could loose myself for hours just experimenting with new rhythms that I have never heard anywhere else…

In experimenting with this, I found it works best on percussive sound sources, of which many of the sources in Signal are comprised.

Intuitive Browser

One of the workflow features that I love about Signal’s interface is the cleverly designed browser:

Browser

This lets you find a variety of patches based on creative concepts like Warm, Dirty, and Organic, or playing styles like Pluck, Stabs, or Looped.  Brilliant!  I was usually able to find a patch from the over 500 presets that was close to what I was looking for, and then I could start the customization from there.

Advanced Mode

This is where the power of Signal really starts to shine for a synth enthusiast:

Advanced better

Notice all the tweakable paramaters for each Rhythm Engine – Volume, Pan, Filters, ADSR, Tube (nice for guitars), and Bite (nice for pluck sounds.)

Macro Editor   macro

Another Advanced feature of Signal is the ability to edit your own macros. Click on the button in the upper right hand side show here and you can assign ANY parameter by simply navigating to that parameter.  You can chain up to 4 parameters in this way – making it similar to the flexibility of synths like Massive.

macro large

They Thought of Everything…

The amount of love and design that went into making this a user friendly instrument are evident at every turn. For example, for those of us who love to modify the presets and make our own instruments, you can easily save those that you create.  While editing, if you stumble upon something cool, you can even copy it a paste it to a new section, as shown here:

Copy layer

Expansions

Output has just released a new module for Signal, Classic Analog Synths, and it sounds amazing!  It comes with 100 new presets, captures the sound of classic analog brilliantly, and is also very reasonably priced (List $35.)

Conclusion

Now lets check out all the above features in a single video to see how easy it is to make changes to the default patches.  One of the most important things we can do as composers is to develop our own sounds, and with a tool like Signal, it becomes easy to distinguish ourselves from the crowd! Check out this video that shows you how to accomplish this in Signal:

In conclusion, this is a highly versatile engine that will add amazing textures to your music. For video game music I found it best to use it for exactly that – adding textures to orchestral songs.  In the intro, I asked if Signal lived up to its hype, and in my experience with this amazing new virtual instrument – it is absolutely the real deal and it far exceeds the hype!

Here is another example cue I wrote, this time using Signal’s more tranquil patches:

 

Additional Links and Videos

Output Website

Gregg Lehrman’s Website

Official Walk-through Video

Download link for the podcast interview with Gregg Lehrman, just click on the link to start the download:

[download id=”2406″]

Podcast version of our interview with Gregg Lehrman on streaming on Mixcloud:

Designing Music NOW Podcast – Episode 6 – Composer and Output’s CEO Gregg Lehrman by Designing Music Now on Mixcloud

 

 

 

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