Arturia have updated their V Collection, and one of the stand-out instruments is a recreation of Farfisa’s classic combo organs.
Earlier this year, Arturia gave their V Collection of software instruments a mighty revamp, upgrading existing products from v1 to v2 or from v2 to v3 (as appropriate), and adding five further instruments to the existing 12. These were far from trivial additions so, for those who might not feel the need to own everything in what is now a heavyweight family of synthesizer and keyboard emulators, all of the new products were also made available individually. In this review I’m going to focus on just one of these, the Farfisa V, which aims, in Arturia’s words, to “recreate every nuance of the Farfisa Compact Deluxe and Duo combo organs”. Let’s see if it does.
Both of my Farfisas (a single-manual Deluxe and a dual-manual Duo) have faults, and they’re not the easiest instruments to maintain in perfect working order so, some years ago, I pretty much gave up. Unfortunately, they’re not the easiest instruments to synthesise, either. I’ve tried on many synths and workstations but, at best, I’ve arrived at sounds that I would describe as useable without them ever achieving authenticity. I’ve also had the opportunity to review other keyboards that offer Farfisa emulations, and none of these have ever fully captured the tone and presence of the originals, nor have they offered all of the necessary features — things such as the repeat function introduced on the later Compact Duos — without which no paean to psychedelia is ever going to sound quite right. Consequently, I was keen to get my hands on Farfisa V, which the company claim is modelled on the Compact Deluxe, but is actually a hybrid of the Deluxe and the later Duos.
As soon as I received Farfisa V, I placed my Mac and an Arturia AE controller keyboard next to my Compact Deluxe to see how well Arturia’s engineers had done. Switching off all of the software’s extra features and restricting it to a simple emulation of the original, my first impressions were rather favourable. Sure, there were differences, but I was happy to find that most of these lay within acceptable bounds. For example, stepping through the treble-section tabs one at a time and comparing like with like across the whole range of the keyboard resulted in sounds that I would classify as very similar, but just slightly brighter/warmer/louder/softer (delete as appropriate on a tab-by-tab basis). Elsewhere, the 2-2/3 tab in the Boost section is rather louder in Farfisa V than on my Compact Deluxe, whereas the overall tone of the original — especially when using the Multi-Tone Booster tabs — is more aggressive, as I had expected it to be. On the other hand, the Compact on which Arturia modelled Farfisa V must have had a louder key click than any Farfisa that I’ve ever played because (in my view) Farfisa V has a bit too much. This is often masked in complex sounds, but it leaps out when playing simple registrations. The latest revision of Arturia’s B-3 V Hammond emulator has a parameter to trim this, and I think that it would be sensible to add it here too. Another difference is perhaps more obvious but less significant. Both the slow and fast vibrato settings on my Farfisas are slower than those of Farfisa V. However, since these can be adjusted on the original organs using no more than a small screwdriver, I wouldn’t like to swear that either of mine have retained the settings that they had when they left the factory all those decades ago.
When it comes to playing Farfisa V, it also imitates things such as the swell pedal and knee lever of the original, adding a wah-wah function to the latter in addition to its conventional use of brightening the Multi-Tone Booster tabs. You can control both the pedal and lever using MIDI CCs, so I added an expression pedal to the MIDI controller for the swell and used aftertouch to control the boost, and this worked well. I was also pleased to find that the Percussion and Repeat functions of the second-generation of Farfisa Duos are recreated in full. The percussion offers the correct three decay options but, far more important for me, the Repeat correctly imitates the repeating percussion effect of the original. You can’t play the full Pink Floyd catalogue without this!
The next facility is aimed at emulating the way in which the original organs’ key contacts made contact with their bus bars, spreading the actuation of the various footages at lower velocities. It’s a nice idea, but the implementation is too subtle for me. Much more effective are the Voice Tune controls that allow you to detune each of the 12 notes in the octave to help recreate the often off-key tuning of the original. And, to increase the authenticity still further, you can adjust the background noise level to impart the wanted degree of decrepitude. What’s more, it offers the bass, treble, and master volume controls provided by the F/AR power supply used by some of the original Compacts, and there’s even an on-board reverb offering 20 presets derived from nine algorithms ranging from Farfisa and Eminent springs to the Roland RSP550 digital signal processor module. This is all good stuff.
As you might suspect, there’s more here than is immediately apparent and, with Farfisa V’s top panel opened to expose the Advanced Section controls, it becomes evident that its sound-generation capabilities stretch far beyond those of the original instrument. Most obviously, the User Wave section allows you to replace its modelled waveforms with either a user-defined wave (the 48 sliders draw the shape of the waveform) or a wave generated by additive synthesis (the sliders control the amplitudes of the first 48 harmonics). When used with the associated 12dB/octave low-pass filter and the Attack/Release loudness envelope, these form the basis of a limited but nonetheless unusual synthesizer, and I soon found that I could craft many unexpected sounds using a combination of the additive synthesis and the effects (see box).
For example, I stumbled across a rather lovely family of choral sounds and, since Farfisa V incorporates Arturia’s standard patch filing system, I created a new patch characteristic that I called ‘Vox’ (but not in honour of another transistor organ from the 1960s) and saved these before moving on to uncover all manner of sounds ranging from harsh, digital tones to some surprisingly pleasant pads fashioned from a combination of strange waveforms and lashings of effects. This flexibility also explains the diversity of the factory sounds, which, in addition to the expected organs, include a handful of solo and ensemble strings as well as various synth-like sounds and effects. If you were expecting something that sounded like a Farfisa Compact and little more, some of these will surprise you.
In addition to all of this, and in stark contrast with the simple bass section of the original organs, Farfisa V offers nine user-selectable bass waveforms followed by a resonant 24dB/octave low-pass filter. Two of these waveforms are the Soft and Sharp waves generated by the standard Farfisa tone generators, two are the additive and user waves defined by the 48 faders, while the other five are standard synth waveforms: sawtooth, hard-sync sawtooth, square and modified square (whatever that means), and a 15-percent pulse wave. Bass percussion is retained with long and short options, as is the independent volume control for the bass section. But perhaps the biggest benefit here is the range over which the bass sound can be played. Whereas the original organs allowed you to play bass over 12 semitones using the bass keys alone (the inverted section on the keyboard), or over 24 semitones using both the assignable (grey) and bass keys, Farfisa V adds another 15 semitones below these to give it a range of over three octaves. Well done, Mr Arturia. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to play these sounds using bass pedals — you have to use some form of MIDI merge and assign the pitches accordingly. Indeed, there’s no dual-manual capability either; if you want to play something equivalent to a Compact Duo, you have to launch two instances, which, of course, precludes purely stand-alone use. What the Frenchman giveth, the Frenchman also taketh away.
Finally, there are the expected MIDI enhancements, ranging from things such as MIDI Clock sync (with nine sync-rate options) for the tremolo and repeat functions, to Arturia’s usual MIDI Learn capabilities. These allow you to control and automate almost every parameter within the instrument; only the 48 faders in the User Wave section, the reverb type and the mic on/off axis switch on the amp are excluded, although I can’t see why they should have been. As elsewhere in the Arturia product range, you can’t assign a single control to multiple parameters, which is a great shame because, if you could, you could set up complete registrations and switch between them using a single button. On a more positive note, you can at least create multiple MIDI maps so that you can control Farfisa V from different controllers.
After 50 years, no surviving Farfisa Compact can be deemed to be indicative of all such instruments, and there were a number of differences between the one on which Arturia modelled Farfisa V and each of mine. Consequently, I can envisage a number of independent A/B comparisons giving rise to comments that it’s not an accurate representation of the original. However, I think that this is the wrong way to approach it. During the course of this review, I temporarily replaced some of my synthesised imitations of the Farfisa in some existing mixes. There was no question about the outcome; Farfisa V was a significant improvement and, despite it needing a revision to touch up some of its finer points, I really liked the results. Unlike any synthesised emulation I’ve heard (or created), it injected the real character of the original organs even though it didn’t always sound completely true to my instruments. So perhaps the real question is, did the differences cause me any distress? In truth, they didn’t, although I think that it would be a good idea for Arturia to compare their algorithms to a few more vintage examples to check things such as the relative amplitudes of some of the tabs, and the level of the key click.
Ultimately, Farfisa V is capable of some great sounds, ranging from emulations of the gnarliest of Farfisa’s ‘boosted’ tones to some evocative new sounds all of its own. And, despite being pushed mercilessly with an audio buffer of just 32 samples on a five-year-old MacBook Pro, it remained fault free throughout the test period. Given its recent release, I think that we’ll see some further updates but, while it’s not going to be the first — or even the most significant — soft synth you’ll buy, I think that it’s already a valuable addition to Arturia’s burgeoning library of software instruments.
The four other new products in the Arturia range are a diverse bunch, ranging from acoustic and electric pianos (which, it could be argued, are unnecessary additions except that they fill piano-sized holes in the V Collection) to Hammond organs (which, again, are well catered for elsewhere), to the unique and monstrously capable Synclavier. I suspect that a couple of these (Piano V and B-3 V) were finalised in a bit of a rush so that V Collection 5 could be announced with all five products in place, so I’ll be interested to see how they progress over the next few months.
Arturia bundled piano software from both UVI and Pianoteq with their KeyLab 88 controller keyboard, but clearly felt that there was room for a homegrown acoustic piano in the range. Piano V is a powerful package, modelling a range of upright and grand pianos controlled by parameters such as string tension, stretch tuning, hammer characteristics, pedal noise, soundboard resonance, lid position and more. You can then further modify the sound by adjusting the positions of the four virtual microphones that capture it, as well as the reverberation characteristics of the virtual room in which the piano is sitting. Using a KeyLab88 as controller, I was able to craft and play a huge range of realistic and otherworldly pianos using Piano V and — although I didn’t delve deeply — I was happy with both the tone and the degree of control, although my experience was marred by an inconsistent response to both the Kurzweil and Roland damper pedals that I tried with it. The UVI and Pianoteq pianos still worked perfectly on the same system, so I’ll be keen to try Piano-V again when everything is sorted out.
Emulating both Rhodes’ Suitcase and Stage pianos (the latter with a Fender combo amp), Stage 73 V also provides a wealth of controls that allow you tailor its sound to taste. These include a selection of harmonic profiles for the initial timbre, plus controls to modify the pickups, hammers and dampers. Five effects slots are provided in the form of a volume/wah pedal and four stompboxes that can each host one of six effects — flanger, chorus, phaser, delay, compressor or overdrive — although only one of any given type can be inserted at any time. The Suitcase model also incorporates vibrato, while the amp on the Stage model adds vibrato and overdrive, and the combination of all of these makes it simple to recreate the standard palette of Rhodes sounds from the ’60s and ’70s, and much more besides. However, a word of warning... The bark of electromechanical pianos is difficult to capture, and I find that most emulations can be a tad lifeless unless you push parameters such as the hardness and EQ a bit. It also helps if you play them through amps and speakers capable of reproducing the dynamic range of a real Rhodes. Play them through small monitors and they can sound, well small. I gave Stage 73 V a bit of welly and it sounded great.
B-3 V is what the name implies, albeit without a pedalboard. It offers the expected tonewheel generation with wrapping at high pitches, percussion, key click, chorus/vibrato, and a rotating speaker emulation with a range of reverb models, while Advanced Controls allow you to tailor characteristics such as the leakage and key-click loudness. There’s also a rudimentary AR envelope provided, and this leads you straight to the eerie sounds of 1960s TV soundtracks, especially when coupled with B-3 V’s selection of stompbox effects. More radical, the Voice Modulators allow you to adjust the contributions of each of the footages using envelopes, LFOs, and a 32-step sequencer. You can create up to 10 modulators and assign them to any combination of the drawbars so, with careful programming, you can obtain many interesting new sounds and effects.
Unfortunately, the underlying sound doesn’t always ring quite true to me; for example, selecting percussion doesn’t suppress the loudness of the sustained part of the note as it should, and there are some oddities in the Leslie effect. Indeed, the bass rotor doesn’t work at all in version 188.8.131.52. When everything is sorted out, this should be a nice instrument but, for the moment, I would file it as ‘work in progress’.
But by far the most intriguing of the new soft-thingies, Synclavier V seeks to emulate a synthesizer that few players have ever had the opportunity to try and, if truth be told, not many would have the patience to use had the opportunity arisen. Hailing from the same era (and price range) as the Fairlight II, the Synclavier II was an awe-inspiring instrument but, at the time, seemed both complex and impenetrable. I’ll be reviewing this sometime soon, and it will be intriguing to see whether Arturia have both emulated its sound and managed to reinvent its low-resolution monochrome control pages as attractive GUIs for the 21st Century.
In addition to the reverb unit in the organ itself, Farfisa V offers five ‘stompbox’ effect slots, each of which hosts one effect selected from the five supplied: flanger, phaser, chorus, delay and overdrive. You can change the order of these, but you can’t duplicate them so, for example, you can’t sacrifice the phaser to insert two choruses. Since the original organs were often played with lashings of effects — Echorecs and spring reverbs to create those famous psychedelic sounds in the 1960s, and pedals such as the Electric Mistress and Small Stone in the 1970s — they add a great deal to Farfisa V.
There’s a final signal-processing stage in the form of a Fender Twin combo emulation, with drive, master volume, brightness on/off, its own set of EQ controls, plus an option to select between on- or off-axis positions for the virtual microphone. Whether used independently or together, the amp and effects add hugely to the flexibility of the instrument.