Boomedia's Studio Weapons bundle consists of no fewer than 11 Direct X plug-in instruments and five effect plug-ins, and is based around Jeff McClintock's Synthedit code, which is freely available from the Internet at www.synthedit.com.
The first thing you notice when the plug-ins are loaded into your host sequencer is the visuals. Boomedia have approached this collection with some attitude, and their bright colour schemes make a refreshing change from the standard grey boxes. Unfortunately you can have too much of a good thing, however, and a couple of plug-ins are spoilt by some rather hit-and-miss graffiti-style controls that end up looking very cluttered, defeating the general minimalist feel of the controls and work surfaces.
The plug-ins themselves are arranged in six sub-folders: Analogues, Digitals, Drumboxes, Groovestations, Overlords and FX. The Analogue section contains three synths, beginning with Cerebrum, described as an analogue hard sync synth with assignable LFO, six wave shapes and six-note polyphony. This synth has a low CPU usage which is balanced by its simple and harsh-edged sounds. Alongside Cerebrum is Jutoo, a fatter-sounding Juno-style soft synth with more filters, a sub-oscillator and a stack of pretty good presets. The best of the 'analogue' bunch for me, though, is Teepee, a very simple bass synth featuring four-note polyphony, six wave shapes, a sub-bass oscillator and low-pass filter. The 32 presets are very good, ranging from some nice subs to the prerequisite acid squelch, and its uncomplicated controls (in a fetching red) make it a doddle to come up with some satisfying bass sounds.
Next up are the Digitals, which comprise two more synths: Coolass and She Said. Coolass is a six-note synth using four FM algorithms and three filter types, whilst She Said is described as a "digital-analogue hybrid" featuring an assignable LFO and three modelled resonators. Both synths sound good and feature a simple user interface, and are perfect for the 'knob fiddler' style of programmer like myself — which is good, as the included presets are a touch limited.
Time to try out the Drumboxes. Sidekik is a Recycle-like loop module which contains 87 preset (and chopped) breakbeats which can then be replayed into new patterns and/or sent through the unit's filters. The chopped loops are OK, but the inability to import your own loops means being stuck with what's here. Boom Box is a four-note analogue-style drum machine with a modelled kick and sampled snare, closed hat and open hat (two of each taken from a 808 and 909). Each hit has its own output and set of filters, but the resulting kits are disappointing. The snare in particular is a let-down, lacking bite especially in the woeful hip-hop preset kits. Last up for the Drumboxes is Docta Beat, a six-channel sample-based rhythm module featuring 320 preset drum hits (but no importing of new samples) split into the usual categories — kick, snare, hats, and so on. As with the rest of the plug-ins, each drum hit has its own channel and filter section and is very easy to use. The preset kits are patchy, ranging from very usable techno kits to quite weak hip-hop and drum & bass collections, but being able to mix and match between kits adds some much-needed user choice.
Described as the core of Studio Weapons, Overlords is a drum loop module based around 11 collections of loops grouped by tempo (from 80 to 180 bpm, in steps of 10). Each module can hold four preset rhythm loops taken from a bank of 36, which are different for each module and geared towards dance music, with each loop assigned to a separate output channel. The loops have been chopped in Recycle style, allowing changes in tempo, and each has its own 12dB/octave filter control switchable between low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and band-reject, plus an assignable LFO. The pre-programmed loops are of a good quality and lots of fun can be had by layering the loops together, but without the ability to import loops I do wonder how useful this plug-in is for making actual tracks.
Last up in the instrument category are the two Groovestations, Helix and Samurai. Helix is a five-channel loop tool, where each channel contains a preset collection of dance-orientated samples (from a bank of 100 featuring both beats and synths) that can be played at normal, double and half speed. Each channel has volume and pan controls as well as an assignable output, and on the effects side there is both delay and reverb.
Samurai is a four-part module — each part assigned to a different MIDI channel — with a bass tone generator, a basic drum machine, 10 chopped and Recycled breakbeats and a bank of 77 loops. After a quick scan around the controls it's quite easy to get some quick grooves going, and the inclusion of the user-programmable drums and bass gives Samurai a little more flexibility than Helix. However, as with Overlords, I am slightly unsure of the Groovestations' value as real creative tools, as unlike stand-alone units that need nothing else to construct a track (like their hardware equivalents) both have to be run from within a host sequencer — where you can easily program your own patterns anyway.
Last but not least, we come to the FX section. This consists of five plug-ins including a host-sync'ed phaser/modulation effect, a delay with built-in LFO filter, filter bank and chorus/fattening module, all of which are simple to use and do their respective jobs very well.
Targeted towards the production of dance music in all its varied forms, Studio Weapons overall is a bit of a mixed bag. Although all the plug-ins are varied and refreshingly simple to use, some are much more useful that others, and the collection as a whole has a tendency to rely heavily on the included preset samples and loops. Having said that, £129 for 11 instruments and five effects isn't bad value for money — but be aware that there are other instruments of a similar nature based upon Synthedit out there for free (or as shareware) on the Internet if you take the time to look for them. Oli Bell