If your musical productions are predominately based around pre-recorded musical loops, applications such as Sony Acid and Ableton Live offer comprehensive and mature platforms to get the job done. However, while similar facilities for working with loops are now integrated into all the major sequencers, sometimes a dedicated tool is what is required. Enter AMG's One. AMG are well known to SOS readers for their sample-library products, but One represents their first software instrument. Available either with or without AMG's Core Library, One includes a comprehensive feature list for tempo matching and manipulation of loops as well as a well-specified Step Sequencer.
I tested using the VST plug-in within Cubase SX running on a PC system — the Mac VST and AU versions were, however, supplied on the same DVD. Installation of the plug-in was straightforward, and AMG use challenge-and-response copy protection for One, with a machine-specific ID number being generated by the plug-in. Once registered on AMG's web site, a licence file is returned via email to authorise the plug-in and allow access to the Core Library content. This all worked without a hitch on my test system. The Core Library itself is a hefty 4.5GB of sample material (see the 'Library Work' box for details) and AMG have other libraries in development. While the Core Library content can only be accessed via One, the plug-in can load loops or samples from other libraries, including Acidised WAVs and REX files. Users can specify the location of the library via One's Options page.
One's main screen is split into three main areas. On the left is the Browser, which includes search facilities to assist in finding loops or samples of a particular type from within the Core Library. The top strip of the One window contains the Global Controls and, in addition to the buttons for loading/saving either individual loops or Multis (collections of up to eight loops and their associated settings), it includes an information display that shows data for the currently selected loop or sample.
The four buttons at the bottom of the Global Controls section dictate what is shown in the bulk of the window. These buttons toggle between the eight Racks (two banks of four) and a single instance of One can therefore be used to mix and match eight loops. The other buttons call up the Options page and the FX page. One features four user-configurable FX units — two Insert units for processing an individual loop, and two Send-Return units for global processing.
PC: Pentium III 1GHz processor with 512MB RAM running Windows (no version specified). 16-bit soundcard. VST 2 plug-in compatible host software. 4.5GB hard drive space for Core Library installation.
Mac: 800MHz G4 with 512MB RAM running Mac OS 10.3.9 or better. VST 2 or Audio Unit plug-in compatible host software. 4.5GB hard drive space for Core Library installation.
One's Rack units are where all the serious work gets done. A loop or other sample can be loaded into a Rack via the Browser. The MIDI Channel and Trigger Key can be adjusted via clicking and dragging with the mouse. This works well enough, but can be a little fiddly — the ability to double-click and then enter a value via the keyboard would be a useful addition. These settings can be used to create a number of different configurations but, most obviously, they can be set for 'live' layering of loops, with all eight Racks configured to respond to the same MIDI channel, and with the individual Racks being triggered by successive notes on a master keyboard.
If single samples (as opposed to loops) are loaded into a Rack, they are simply mapped as a playable instrument across the MIDI keyboard. One then acts as a simple sample playback tool, although all the usual problems of samples speeding up/down to achieve the changes in pitch apply here — this is not a tool for sophisticated multi-sample instrument playback. In contrast, if a loop is loaded into a rack, the Loop switch toggles between two playback modes. With Loop mode on, the Trigger Note switch causes the whole loop to play back in sync with the project. With Loop mode off, a beat-sliced version of the loop is mapped across the keyboard starting at C1, and the individual slices can be triggered. The Export MIDI button creates a MIDI file that will trigger the loop slices in sequence to recreate the original loop performance. This file can, of course, be reloaded into your sequencer for further manipulation as required. The Out setting allows the loop to be routed to any one of One's four stereo outputs or to one of the two Insert FX units. These in turn can be routed to any of the four main output pairs. The Solo, Mute, FX3, and FX4 Aux Send controls and the Pan and Volume controls complete the line up.
The options displayed in the central portion of each Rack can be switched between three main views — Synthesizer, Waveform, and Step Sequencer — using the selector button located at the top left (next to the Rack number). In Synthesizer mode (the default), three pages of controls are available (toggled via the Page buttons towards the right side of the Rack). Aside from Fine and Coarse Tuning controls, the screens are dominated by controls for the multi-mode resonant filter, filter envelope, amplifier envelope, and filter and pitch LFOs. These manage to combine plenty of sound-shaping possibilities, without being so complicated that a PhD is required in order to use them! Creating both subtle and extreme filter-sweep-type effects is a doddle, and real-time control is made much easier by a well-implemented Reason-style MIDI Learn facility for assigning a hardware controller to a particular One setting.
With a loop loaded, switching to Waveform view shows the beat-sliced version of the sample. While no control is provided over the slicing process itself, there are some excellent options for manipulating slices. These include the ability to shuffle slice positions and mute, reverse, or change the volume, pan, or pitch of individual slices. Slices can also be selected and then replaced with another sample, and a further twist to this is the very neat multi-layer option, where a second sample can be layered with a particular slice. The obvious application for both these features would be the replacement or beefing up of drum sounds within a loop and, while it is not without its limitations (for example, the length of a layered sample is fixed to the length of the slice from the original loop it is being layered with), it is easy to use and offers plenty of creative possibilities.
As mentioned above, the third option within each Rack is the Step Sequencer. Up to 32 samples can be loaded into the Sample Matrix. For each of these samples, a 16-step sequence can be constructed and steps can be accented. Sample volume, pan, and pitch can be also be adjusted as can the 'swing' and accent strength.
Interestingly, if the Rack also contains a loop in the Synthesizer mode, this loop and the samples in the Step Sequencer are layered, and both play back in response to the Trigger Key. For Step Sequencer fans, perhaps the most obvious limitation is that each Rack can only hold a single sequence — if you want to create variations on a Step Sequence, then the same samples have to be loaded into a second Rack, although this can easily be done by saving the Rack patch and re-loading it into a second Rack.
As indicated earlier, One includes four separate effects processors — two Insert (FX1 and FX2) and two Send-Return (FX3 and FX4). The effects types available include all the usual suspects: reverb, delay, various modulation effects, EQ, compression, gate, distortion, and various filters. Usefully, One includes a large number of preset effects patches suitable for common tasks. For each FX slot, the functions of the six controls change to reflect the particular effect type selected.
The output destination of all four FX units can be specified, as can the 'mix' level. The routing options also allow a signal from FX1 or FX2 to be passed to the two Send-Return effects if required. Overall, the quality of the effects processing is respectable, with a good degree of control, although it would be unfair to expect miracles of the reverb algorithms given the price of One and its prime function.
One can be purchased either on its own or bundled with the massive 4.5GB Core Library. This library provides a collection of both loops and individual samples that are fully formatted and tagged to work with One and the search facilities built into the Browser. In terms of instrument groups, these are split into the conventional section including bass, drums, strings, synths, vocals, percussion, pad, and FX types.
The quickest way to get a flavour of the material, however, is via the Full Mix Multis. These each comprise a One Multi patch, and the majority contain three related loops (drums, bass, and melody/chords) loaded into the first three Racks. There is some excellent material here covering a range of styles, but titles such as Black Hoodie, Save Hip-hop and NuGroove Soul give a clear indication that Hip-hop and R&B producers are well catered for. What is equally impressive, however, is the sheer number of Multis — over 300 in total.
AMG have other 'One + library' bundles in preparation, with sample sets aimed at specific musical genres — Metropolis (Hip-hop) and Infinite Groove (acoustic drums) will be available soon with other content-only libraries (including a large World music loop set) to follow. If these contain as much good material as the Core Library, then they will certainly broaden the appeal of One itself.
During my testing period, One behaved itself impeccably within Cubase SX, and was fairly undemanding on CPU resources — I was able to fully load several instances of One and the Performance Meter barely gave a flutter. On the whole, the user interface is straightforward, and AMG have struck a sensible balance between the creative options offered and the level of complexity. That is not to say that One is without quirks. Some of the controls can be a little difficult to adjust and (as with the MIDI channel and Trigger Key settings) it would be nice to have the option to enter values via the keyboard. It would also be preferable if the MIDI Export option could pass the data directly to a track within the host sequencer.
It is almost inevitable to draw a comparison between One and NI's Intakt (reviewed in SOS June 2004). The general looping options — with automatic tempo matching — offer similar levels of functionality, but there are also some differences. For example, Intakt provides a useful virtual keyboard for auditioning loops without you having to take your hand off the mouse, while One includes its simple (but effective) Step Sequencer. One trick missed by both products is the Acid-style automatic preview of loops from the Browser while other loops are playing. One does include a Preview button within the Browser, but this has to be clicked with the mouse to trigger playback — a Preview Always On option would be most welcome.
So if you need a dedicated looping tool, is One the one? Although One is well thought out and offers plenty of creative options for those that like to work with tempo-matched, beat-sliced loops, whether it can challenge other well-established loop tools such as Intakt or Phatmatik Pro is another matter. I would guess that two factors will dictate the choice for most users: firstly, while each product offers similar core tools, the slightly different feature sets may appeal to particular users; and, secondly, for Intakt and One, the contents of the provided sample sets might tip the balance. Sensibly, AMG also offer just the plug-in at a lower price, and in this form it ought to compete well with its more established rivals. A demo version of One should be available by the time you read this, and for loop-heads everywhere, it is well worth checking out.