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Arturia Storm v1.5

Mac/PC Software Music Studio By Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson
Published October 2001

Composition Window: When the studio is built, all the action takes place here. The sequence editing bar is to the top right, with Kepler to its right, and sound and effect modules below. Note the basic level mixer (with bar‑graph meters), bottom right, and the dry/effect send controls to the right of each module.Composition Window: When the studio is built, all the action takes place here. The sequence editing bar is to the top right, with Kepler to its right, and sound and effect modules below. Note the basic level mixer (with bar‑graph meters), bottom right, and the dry/effect send controls to the right of each module.

Software instruments are now becoming commonplace, but it's still an ambitious software developer who attempts to model an entire studio. Derek Johnson and Debbie Poyser find out if Arturia's Storm is a breeze and a blast...

Aaah, France. A nation famed for its letters, kisses, revolutions, good food, wine, garlic, bolshie farmers, chic women, stripy T‑shirts, and software studios. Well, maybe not that last one yet. But give Arturia's Storm a bit of a chance and you never know.

Hailing from a suburb of Grenoble, Arturia burst on to the music software scene with an ambitious first product, a bargain‑priced soft electronic music studio which seems to fit into the same niche as Propellerhead's Reason (reviewed SOS March 2001). In fact, Storm has been around since before Reason, but it's just made it to the Mac, being previously PC‑only. Comparisons with Reason are inevitable (see the Storm vs Reason box), but Storm has its own distinctive approach, as well as a lower price tag.

Overview

WEATHER REPORTStorm's four main synth modules are shown here. Orpheus is Storm's big synth, in sound and well as in size. Note the 'joystick': the red vector shows an LFO acting on the two oscillators' wavetables. Arsenic is a TB303 clone which takes acid a few steps further. Note the dynamic waveform display — of no practical use, but attractive! Bass 52 is a modelling bass that's capable of synth sounds, while Equinoxe is a chord sequencer with an interesting interface. Not only has it inherited Arsenic's basic sound generator, it also has the dynamic waveform display.Storm's four main synth modules are shown here. Orpheus is Storm's big synth, in sound and well as in size. Note the 'joystick': the red vector shows an LFO acting on the two oscillators' wavetables. Arsenic is a TB303 clone which takes acid a few steps further. Note the dynamic waveform display — of no practical use, but attractive! Bass 52 is a modelling bass that's capable of synth sounds, while Equinoxe is a chord sequencer with an interesting interface. Not only has it inherited Arsenic's basic sound generator, it also has the dynamic waveform display.

This attractively designed program is essentially straightforward in concept, consisting of assorted sound and effects modules that you build into a custom rack. The sound makers comprise drum modules, synth modules, and those handling samples or digital audio; Storm v1.5 comes with 12 of them, plus eight effects, and Arturia promise more for free download from their web site. Each sound module has pattern‑sequencing powers, and up to 64 patterns can be saved for each (per song), in overwritable memory locations filled with varied and generally high‑quality factory patterns. Songs are created by chaining patterns using a separate sequencer. The program is largely mouse‑driven during pattern creation, but for other functions, including module parameter control, there are plenty of (computer) keyboard shortcuts. A slight Band‑In‑A‑Box feel is added by the Kepler module, which is always part of the studio. Kepler's function is to automatically transpose pitched modules so that, in theory, their patterns always work together.

Storm runs as a stand‑alone application and also as a VST Instrument, and needs a moderately powerful computer (minimum 300MHz G3 Mac and Mac OS 8.6 or higher, or 300MHz Pentium II PC and Windows 9x/2000) to run. As version 1.5 of Storm is ASIO‑compatible, its audio can be routed through a wide range of hardware to the outside world, and audio can be recorded into it via the same hardware. The program also plays and records via the Mac's Sound Manager.

Getting Started

WEATHER REPORTWEATHER REPORT

Installation was quick and easy, and we were pleasantly surprised by the multilingual multimedia tutorial that launches after installation. The program also offers conventional on‑line help (clicking items summons help boxes), and Internet on‑line help (clicking links in help boxes takes you straight to Arturia's web site and further information). In theory this is great. However, like many musicians, we don't use the same computer for music and the Internet.

While we're on the subject of the Arturia web site, it provides lots of support for Storm users. There's a forum, a 'gallery' for showing off Storm compositions, and a growing set of hints and tips. The last goes some way towards making up for a pretty bad paper (and HTML) manual.

The first thing you see on launching Storm is the Studio Builder screen, two empty 'racks' flanked by the available sound and effects modules. You simply drag each module into a free space, which is quick and easy, but here's the rub: you can only include a maximum of four sound and three effects modules in a studio. This limitation becomes annoying when you get into using the program. Clicking 'Start' causes Storm to build a studio from your desired configuration, which takes a few seconds, and launch you into the Composition screen, the program's business end. One distraction is that Storm's factory patterns start playing immediately you enter the Composition screen, and you have to clear each pattern before starting your own work.

The Synth Modules

Kepler: Auto‑accompaniment for the 21st century?Kepler: Auto‑accompaniment for the 21st century?WEATHER REPORT

Storm 1.5 comes with four synths. Arsenic is a monophonic bass‑line synth á la Roland's classic TB303, with a 16‑step sequencer display above a three‑octave on‑screen keyboard transposable over a six‑octave range. In common with all but one Storm module, there's no MIDI note input (though all synth modules can be played over MIDI), so you have to select a step by clicking one of 16 small buttons, use the mouse again to play a note on the keyboard, and click a tiny area between the keyboard and the step selectors to apply one of three levels of velocity, as opposed to the 303's fully variable 'accent' control. Enabling the classic TB303 acid slide (or adding a tie between two notes) is fiddliest of all: click between steps to be slid on a narrow strip between keyboard and velocity display.

Eight knobs modify Arsenic's timbres, editing amplitude attack and decay EG, filter cutoff frequency and resonance, filter EG modulation depth, and filter EG attack and decay. Square and triangle waveforms are available, and there's a pulse‑width control which, unusually, works on both. Sonically, Arsenic offers a convincing TB303 simulation, but its pulse‑width control, filter EG attack and separate amplitude EG controls, not featured on the original TB303, let you take the acid bass sound a bit further.

Next up is Bass 52, a great‑sounding if not completely realistic physical‑modelling monophonic bass guitar synth similar to the Steinberg VB1 virtual bass. It has a piano‑roll sequencer display, but still uses a 16‑step programming method. To create a part, you click in the display to input a note, which can be dragged to change its length or position. Slide or legato effects can be added, and vibrato and velocity edited with a Cubase‑like controller edit strip. Sonic mangling controls number just three — Filter Attack, Vibrato and Filter Release — but collectively allow a wide range of finger‑style and slap basses to be simulated. You can even create the effect of harmonics. Extreme parameter changes take the sound pleasingly into FM synth‑bass territory.

Equinoxe is an initially intriguing three‑voice chord sequencer which would seem to be just the thing for producing techno triggered‑chord effects. Diatonic intervals (equivalent to the white notes, C‑C, on a keyboard) are used to build chords on an unusual graphic display. The user simply selects the required intervals, with the actual notes played determined by the chords selected in the Kepler module (see Music Of The Spheres box). This provides a short‑cut to chordal accompaniments. The trouble is that the other Storm synth modules allow fully chromatic note input. And any harmonic changes programmed into Kepler, to tell Equinoxe which chords to play, also transpose patterns being played by other modules, not necessarily to euphonic effect. We'd have preferred a fully chromatic Equinoxe, with perhaps Kepler offering sequencing of transpositions, rather than absolute chords. Interestingly, Equinoxe is chromatic when played over MIDI.

Kepler problems aside, producing chords the graphical way is fun: you can have a different chord on each step, or create a chord that plays for all 16. Equinoxe has a sound generator almost identical to Arsenic's, and the module's three oscillators each play a different voice, so it's possible to mix square and triangle waveforms in one chord.

The mega eight‑voice polyphonic Orpheus occupies two rack spaces and offers 'morphing' wavetable synthesis. Orpheus has a number of features that are significantly different from most other Storm modules. For a start, it can record 16‑step patterns of up to eight bars (rather than one bar) in length, and it allows note input from a MIDI keyboard, although this is automatically quantised to 16th‑note resolution. Orpheus is also the only module with patch memories: 64 factory and 64 user. There's no naming, though, and user presets are saved per Song, with new Songs having no access to other Songs' preset collections.

Orpheus's synthesis section is initially hidden by a frosted door, which elegantly slides up to reveal the most comprehensive set of synthesis controls on a Storm instrument. There are two oscillators, each with 32 wavetables. Each wavetable, in turn, has access to four waveforms. The oscillators can also interact, for further sonic complexity: both oscillator sync and frequency modulation are possible. The 12dB/octave filter offers more control than the filters on other Storm modules, with a choice of modes (low‑, high‑ or band‑pass, notch), cutoff and resonance, keyboard tracking and envelope depth. It also has its own four‑stage EG, with a second EG for amplitude. Between them, two well‑specified LFOs can modulate a variety of Orpheus parameters — LFO 2 can even modulate LFO1's rate. We were pleased to see sample & hold amongst the LFOs' waveforms — perfect for random rhythmic filter‑cutoff modulation effects — but, sadly, the LFO doesn't appear to be MIDI sync'able.

The Orpheus experience is further enhanced by the 'waveform control surface', a mouse‑driven joystick. Manipulating the cursor in this window moves through the waveforms in the wavetables, helping to create organically evolving sounds. As with other Storm modules, most parameters can be automated or controlled over MIDI, via a fader box or the controllers on your MIDI keyboard, for example, which helps overcome the cramped feeling of operating via mouse. In all, the impression is of a simple software version of Sequential's VS vector synth, reinforced by the presence of a joystick controller similar to the VS's Waveform Mix joystick.

Unfortunately, the manual's description of operational processes is opaque. The instructions for enabling MIDI note input omit a crucial step: clicking the tiny 'MIDI Rec' button that magically appears when you've undertaken the first part of the procedure. Nevertheless, Orpheus is a great synth, with an involving, evolving sound, though it would be better if it didn't hog two rack spaces and thus two of the four sound‑module slots.

The Drum Modules

WEATHER REPORT

Currently, five drum modules ship with Storm. All feature the same pattern‑programming method and offer eight main sounds, and all but one have pitch and decay controls for each sound, movements of which can be recorded into a pattern. (Similar knob tweaks for the synth modules can only be recorded at Song level.) Some of the drum modules access more than eight sounds by 'doubling up', but one thing they don't offer is the ability to import custom samples, as does Reason's ReDrum module.

Pattern programming is undertaken in a method familiar from classic Roland beatboxes, using the mouse to turn individual steps on or off. Most voices have four velocity levels, cycled through with successive clicks on a step. Usefully, Command‑clicking steps moves backwards through the velocity levels.

The Meteor drum module's sounds are, apparently, "sampled from a real drum machine". We thought they might be sourced from a number of places, though mainly Roland's TR909. The set comprises kick, snare, clap/rim shot, open and closed hi‑hat, ride and crash cymbals and high/low tom. The clap/rim and low/high tom pairs each share one track, with two levels of velocity triggering one sound and the other two triggering the second. Surely there must be a way to provide four levels of velocity for every sound. For example, couldn't a multisampled tom be set up with keygroups that respond to different pitch settings? And couldn't the clap and rim be made selectable by a switch, as on the TR808?

The Psion module is most probably derived from Roland's classic TR808. No names are named, but this is certainly what the kick, snare, clave and clap are reminiscent of. The full layout is kick, snare, hand clap/rim shot, closed and open hi‑hat, ride cymbal, tom and cowbell/clave, though once again, not all sounds are available simultaneously. Notwithstanding that limitation, Psion boasts a fine set of sounds which really respond to pitch and decay controls (especially that killer kick drum!).

A nice collection of exotic drum samples is provided by the cunningly‑named Puma: high and low congas, cabasa, shaker, high and low derbouka (an Arabian goblet‑shaped drum), timbale and temple block — with no irritating doubling up. All sound well together, and using the variable pitch to create random or deliberate pitch changes during a Pattern adds even more of an exotic feel.

Hork majors in traditional acoustic kit sounds: kick, two snares, rim shot, open and closed hi‑hat, high/low toms and crash/ride cymbals. The sounds are solid and reasonably convincing, though the samples are a bit on the crunchy side.

Tsunami is a real favourite, a pure 'synth' drum machine offering eight voices, four based on a noise generator and four based on an oscillator. Tsunami can be unusual, industrial, subtle or cheesy — and the Patterns needn't even sound percussive. It's like having eight extra synths, albeit without precise pitch control. All eight sound generators have level control and pan pot: noise‑based sounds also have attack, decay, filter frequency and filter cutoff controls, while the pots for oscillator‑based sounds essentially control a pitch EG that lets you set up a wide range of sounds, from TR808‑like sub‑bass kicks to '70s disco syndrums that go 'boooo'.

The Sample Modules

WEATHER REPORT

Using samples is likely to be an important part of the Storm user's working method; given the four‑module restriction, samples could be the best way of filling out your sound. Luckily, then, there are three ways of using them.

H3O Plus is a four‑track sample sequencer that has the appearance of a computer‑based 'tracker' program, but is more capable than this might suggest. Not only can it be loaded with your own samples, it also time‑stretches them automatically to fit the current tempo. You can modify the tempo used to calculate the time‑stretching, and also set a sample to automatically change pitch in response to a Kepler chord sequence. The results, at extreme stretches/shifts, are on the crunchy side, but the facility is well worth having nonetheless.

H3O Plus has a similar pattern sequencer to the other modules, but each pattern offers four bars of 16th notes — 64 steps instead of 16 — which allows loops of up to four bars to be loaded. This is a sensible move, since many Storm users will probably be working with sample CDs providing just this sort of material (Arturia include a 40Mb starter collection of loops and hits, in addition to the program's presets). Samples can be freely moved and copied, and length can be changed, which makes the samples time‑stretch to fit the new length. We wondered at first how to balance their levels, but the answer is simple: grab the sample and drag it up or down to change its height. The taller the sample's display 'bar', the louder it is. Brilliant. Unfortunately, there's no control over panning or left/right balance.

If there's one thing we miss in Reason it's the ability to record audio directly, for song vocals especially. Score one very large point for Storm's EZTrack stereo recording module. We successfully recorded audio via Sound Manager and our Digi 001 hardware (using Digi's ASIO driver), but found the experience a little disconcerting. First of all, there initially appeared to be no way to monitor incoming audio, and the documentation doesn't clearly tell you how (click the 'Thru' button). Then there's the latency‑induced slapback echo that kicks in when monitoring has been enabled. Latency is adjustable in the 'Audio' preferences, but was only available in our case for Sound Manager, and the adjustment didn't help. One solution to the latency problem would be to enable Thru while setting your input level (externally — there's no level control within the software), if you're recording a real performance, disabling it for the actual recording. If you need monitoring during recording, additional equipment would be in order — perhaps a small stereo mixer. Another annoyance is that you can't select an input source from within EZTrack. There's an input source select button in the manual's illustrations, but not in the actual software — perhaps it's a PC feature? You can choose an input in the Audio Preferences box, but this is accessed via the Studio Builder screen; audio and MIDI settings can't be changed from the Composition screen.

As useful as it is, there are down sides to EZTrack, in that it can't record two mono tracks, and even if it could there appears to be no way to pan them separately. They're always hard panned left/right. In addition, there are no sample‑editing facilities other than basic cutting and pasting of sections. On the up side, the size of the stereo sample EZTrack can hold is only limited by your computer's free RAM. EZTrack can also be used as a really long stereo sample‑playback track, since any samples from Storm's Sample Library can be dragged into EZTrack's window. Lastly, EZTrack audio can be copied or dragged to H3O Plus or the dual‑'deck' Scratch module — very useful.

Speaking of Scratch, this is one of Storm's least mouse‑friendly modules, though a lot of care has obviously gone into its design. Essentially, you load one sample to each deck, whereupon its tempo is matched to Storm's current tempo. Pitch doesn't remain the same when tempo changes, though: it goes up or down, just like a real turntable. Once the samples are loaded, on‑screen controls allow you to manipulate pitch for each 'deck' (ie. sample), and manually crossfade between them. It's possible to grab hold of either spinning 'record' and scratch it, and to help you accurately select a point from which to start scratching, the 'decks' can be stopped. Hands even appear to show you where and how you're scratching. The audible effect is reasonably convincing, and deck activity can be recorded into a song, but for real fun, assign Scratch deck controls to MIDI controllers. Then you can abandon the mouse and manipulate samples with something closer to a turntable feel — the ribbon controller on our Korg Trinity synth was ideal, for example. Sadly, you can't control Scratch from the computer keyboard, which also would be better than using the mouse.

Effects

WEATHER REPORT

Audio is routed to Storm's effects, a standard range of treatments and processors, via the synth, sample and drum modules' effect sends. Each effect also has its own pair of sends, for routing some of its output to the other two effects you're allowed per studio. It might seem wrong to access processors such as the newly‑introduced compressor via a send system, but the flexible routing makes allowances for this type of usage. The same flexibility allows both serial and parallel processing configurations to be set up. Most effect controls can be automated within the program and tweaked via MIDI

Time‑domain effects comprise chorus, flanger, dual delay and reverb. The chorus and flanger are similar, each offering width and feedback controls, but where chorus has a speed control, the flange has a display for setting the number of beats in a flange cycle (4‑64), and also ensures that flanging is always roughly in time with the track. The dual delay, with feedback and cross‑delay controls (the latter allowing each delay's feedback to interact with the other), is also sync'd to Storm's tempo. The reverb, new for v1.5, is simple in operation but can produce results that belie this simplicity. There are five ambience types — small, medium and large rooms, cathedral and tunnel. A simple graphic of each architectural space appears in the reverb's display, and two sliders control decay and diffusion, while a nifty X‑Y 'target' over the display provides mouse‑driven control of HF/LF damping and room absorption. Thus with one control it's possible to radically alter the sound of the reverb. Though the reverb is sonically not the most sophisticated, the clever interface ensures that you can get the best from it.

Other processors include ring modulator, distortion, low‑pass filter and sequenced filter. The ring mod is more of a vibrato inducer, but it can be driven to the clangorousness typical of ring modulation. Distorsion (sic) has just a drive control, and the LPF simply offers cutoff frequency and resonance controls. The unusual Sequence Filter features a resonance control, plus 16 variable cutoff‑frequency steps which trigger in sync with Storm. During this review, a new compressor appeared on Arturia's web site. It's pretty sophisticated, with all the controls you'd expect, plus an intuitive, interactive display that provides good visual feedback of what the module is doing.

Creating A Song

WEATHER REPORT

The creation of a Song via the main sequencer, from Patterns programmed into Storm's modules, couldn't be simpler: hit the record and play buttons in the transport, and change Patterns and knob tweaks for each module on the fly, using the mouse or computer‑keyboard shortcuts, or via MIDI. There's a track for each sound module, plus a 'mix and effects' track for mixer fader moves and effect knob tweaks. Kepler pattern changes are also recorded into this track. Recording takes place from the current sequencer cursor position, so you could set up a loop to record a verse, move on to loop‑record a chorus, and then copy and paste the two sections. Colour‑coding is available to highlight sections.

The only real difficulty comes if you'd like to edit a sequence in any detail, since there isn't much beyond cut and paste. Certainly, Storm lacks an event or piano‑roll editor, so if a recording goes wrong, you'll have to redo it. Some extra help is afforded by 'Static Recording' mode; with this, you highlight one or more bars on one or more tracks and manually set parameters and pattern numbers, which are then fixed for the length of sequence highlighted.

Interestingly, it's possible to change tempo and bar length for a single bar or a range of bars, across all sequence tracks rather than per track. Thus you have both a tempo track and a way of subverting the program's 16th‑note, four‑in‑a‑bar hegemony. The fact that bars may be any length, from one to 16 steps, allows you to program interesting jump‑cuts, and also to create the feel of non‑4/4 time signatures by careful pattern programming. For example, reducing a bar's step length to 12 would let you program 3/4 bars with 16th‑note resolution. Simply write 12‑step patterns in the sound modules, leaving steps 13‑16 blank.

Songs can be exported as WAVs, AIFFs or MP3s, and because any Song exported is also automatically saved into Storm's Sample Library, it could be reimported to form the basis for further development in EZTrack or H3O Plus. This is one way around the Storm rack's current four‑instrument limit.

Conclusion

WEATHER REPORT

A handful of improvements would change Storm from being a very good software studio to being a great one. At the moment it feels slightly less than the 'professional'‑level product it claims to be, because in some areas it provides less control than most professional users would expect. Attending to the module‑number limit would be a big step in the right direction. It's frustrating, when you're having fun creating a track, to realise that you can't easily add that extra synth line because you can't have an extra synth. Allowing users who don't require the intervention of the Kepler module to disconnect it from specified modules should also be a priority. Creating an efficient sound library system wouldn't go amiss, and if Arturia can improve VST Instrument integration, many potential users will obviously be pleased.

These comments notwithstanding, Storm is a stable and most appealing product with many strengths, from a company who seem keen to continuously improve it; we're confident that they'll be addressing the program's weaker areas in due course. In the meantime, there's a lot of great music to be made with Storm.

Music Of The Spheres: The Kepler Module

Storm's drum modules. Tsunami provides eight synths in one drum machine, Psion mimics the laid‑back feel of the TR808, Puma offers exotic percussion, Meteor majors in the sound of the TR909, while Hork provides a straight rock set with faux‑'70s wood trim.Storm's drum modules. Tsunami provides eight synths in one drum machine, Psion mimics the laid‑back feel of the TR808, Puma offers exotic percussion, Meteor majors in the sound of the TR909, while Hork provides a straight rock set with faux‑'70s wood trim.

Sixteenth‑century astronomer/astrologer/Renaissance dude Johan Kepler has given his name to Storm's Kepler module. Its two concentric rings of 12 coloured beads resemble an astronomical diagram, recalling Kepler's theories regarding planetary movements, while their function (the setting of the chords used for the program's transpositions) chime with his interlocking ideas about the frequency ratios of musical intervals.

Kepler is, at first glance, a fairly handy tool, in that it simplifies the process of providing a song's harmonic structure, by automating chord changes. Twelve major chords are selected by the outer ring of buttons, and 12 minor by the inner ring, organised according to the 'circle of fifths' relationship. Kepler's 64 patterns each have eight chord‑change steps, and since a step equals half a bar (two beats), Kepler patterns last for two bars. This length is fixed, but you can have the same chord on several consecutive steps if desired. (Smaller steps would have been nice.) Each step can be transposed up an octave, to add variety, or create smoother transitions if notes leading from one chord to another would otherwise jump in register. There are no fancy chord options, and Kepler is only intelligent enough to decide whether thirds and sixths in Equinoxe should be major or minor; all sevenths (when programmed into Equinoxe) are flattened.

As mentioned in the main text, Kepler isn't always successful when transposing modules other than Equinoxe. Arturia, in their web‑based hints and tips, recommend you write in C, Kepler's base key; their preset Patterns are in C and work together in any combination, with any Kepler chord sequence. But even if you do write in C, only parts with simple intervals — fifths, fourths, octaves — will successfully follow all Kepler chord sequences. If you don't use Equinoxe, you don't need to use Kepler, but it would be best if specified modules could be made 'immune' to its transpositions. Arturia realise Kepler can be problematic and are considering this idea.

Screen Resolution

H3O Plus is a simple four‑track stereo sample sequencer that automatically matches tempos and keys.H3O Plus is a simple four‑track stereo sample sequencer that automatically matches tempos and keys.

Arturia recommend a resolution of 800x600 for Storm. However, when we changed from our normal 1024x768 to 800x600, the image slightly spilled off the screen. Rebooting caused the image to fit exactly, if rather snugly, but without the Title Bar. It's much easier to work with the image at this size, but it looks less sophisticated than the elegant miniature version you get at 1024x768. Also, 800x600 is not ideal for Cubase, which would be running on the same computer if Storm was used as a VST plug‑in.

Storm & VST

EZTrack: Record live audio into a Storm performance.EZTrack: Record live audio into a Storm performance.

Storm can be used as a plug‑in instrument with VST‑compatible software. A colleague at SOS suggested that running it in this way might allow access to more modules — by launching more instances of the plug‑in. Alas, this was not to be. Although selecting the plug‑in version of Storm is just like selecting a normal VST Instrument (we were using Cubase VST v5 on the Mac), a miniature version of Storm doesn't appear within Cubase. Rather, Storm is launched in the background, linked to Cubase in a manner similar to ReWired applications such as Propellerhead's Rebirth. Thus, Storm's contributions to the tandem track are created separately in Storm, which is sync'd to Cubase.

One stereo input for each of Storm's four modules, plus one for the main mix, is added to Cubase's mixer, giving Storm access to all the insert and send effects, plus EQ, available to normal VST Instruments. The main mix includes module audio plus effects, so some flanging occurs due to mixed audio being slightly delayed in relation to each module's direct output. Muting that channel in Cubase's mixer also mutes Storm's effects; to hear these effects within Cubase, turn each module's 'dry' control down and Storm's mix out routes just the effects returns to Cubase.

So far, so good. The trouble is that Storm doesn't sync perfectly to Cubase, running fractionally behind. Arturia say this is a particular problem with Cubase VST that isn't down to Storm and doesn't occur with other VST hosts, such as Logic Audio. They suggest that sync can be stabilised by setting a loop in Cubase, and that after the loop point is passed once, the sync is OK. Surprisingly, we found this to be true, though we still encountered problems when bouncing a Storm‑enhanced Cubase song to disk: the delay is there in the bounce.

Of course, the demands on a computer running both Cubase and Storm are considerable. We've heard reports of difficulty in running both on a 450MHz G3, perhaps because Storm is heavily Java‑based and therefore relatively processor‑hungry. Everything worked on our 450MHz G4, but perhaps the best approach, even for those with super‑powered Macs or PCs, would be to write a track in Storm and import its parts as samples into Cubase.

One positive point about Cubase integration is that Storm modules that are playable over MIDI can be accessed from Cubase's Arrange window: just select Storm as a MIDI track's destination, switch to Storm and select MIDI playback in the normal way. Your keyboard, routed through Cubase to Storm, will be assigned to the target synth module, allowing you to program parts for it in Cubase, albeit with the usual plug‑in latency issues. This is definitely a feature worth having.

Storm v Reason

WEATHER REPORT

Though Storm costs quite a bit less than Reason, they will inevitably both be considered by musicians considering a self‑contained software studio. Here are some quick feature comparisons:

While Storm is restricted to four sound sources and three effects per studio, a big plus for the Reason studio is that it's only limited by computer power. In Storm's favour, it offers direct audio recording, which Reason doesn't, but Reason allows importing of custom samples into its drum module, while the sound sets of Storm drumboxes are fixed.

Storm's sample players have no synthesis facilities, while Reason's sample module does, and Reason's sequencing is much more flexible, with both a matrix step sequencer and a conventional linear track‑based sequencer which can record performances played from a MIDI keyboard. This latter sequencer also offers event editing, which Storm doesn't have, but Storm features a tempo track, which Reason lacks. One big difference between the programs is Storm's Kepler module. This could be an advantage or a disadvantage for Storm, depending on your viewpoint!

Another Storm feature not matched by Reason is automatic sample time‑stretching and pitch‑shifting to match song tempo/pitch. However, Reason does far better than Storm on the sound/sample organisation front — Storm has no synth or drum machine libraries (though Orpheus offers 64 user patches per Song), and samples are imported to and saved with Songs, so custom samples used in more than one song must be imported multiple times, using up extra disk space.

Storm's rather toy‑like Scratch module is unique to it, but Reason's mixing facilities are far more sophisticated than Storm's. Reason is also much more flexible on pattern lengths and note resolutions than the 16‑step/16th‑note resolution Storm. Better Undo facilities are offered by Reason, and Reason's effects are rather more flexible in use. As regards ongoing expansion, registered Storm users benefit from Arturia's policy of placing new modules free on their web site. Finally, there's a fair price difference between the two programs: Storm costs £149, while Reason's retail is £299. Overall, we think Reason is the more professional program, but it's all down to what you need and which approach you prefer. Why not download demos of both and find out? (www.arturia.com, www.propellerheads.se) Potential Storm or Reason buyers could also consider Creamware's more expensive Scope/Pulsar systems, comprising expandable software studios and accompanying hardware.

Test Spec* Arturia Storm v1.5.

WEATHER REPORT
  • Apple G4 450MHz with 384Mb RAM running Mac OS 9.0.4.
  • Digi 001 audio interface.
  • Tested with Steinberg Cubase v5.0 r1.

WEATHER REPORT

Pros

  • Very reasonable price.
  • Nice selection of modules, especially Orpheus synth and Tsunami drum module.
  • Automatic sample time‑stretching and pitch‑shifting.
  • Direct audio recording.
  • Great contemporary sound.
  • 40Mb of free samples.

Cons

  • Studio limited to four sound modules and three effects.
  • Kepler module inflexible.
  • Sync imperfect when used as VST Instrument.
  • Quite mouse‑intensive.
  • No sample import into drum modules.
  • Poor manual.

Summary

Surely the cheapest way into contemporary electronic music making for those who already have a suitable computer, Storm is tons of fun and produces an impressive sound. It only needs a few improvements to begin to threaten Reason's pre‑eminence.

Published October 2001