Arturia’s mighty V Collection continues to grow and improve.
Arturia’s V Collection was presaged in 2005 when the company took four soft synths — the ARP 2600 V, CS‑80 V, Minimoog V and Modular V — and bundled them together for a limited period into a single purchase called the Vintage Collection Pack. Following this, the company didn’t revisit the concept until 2010 when the renamed V Collection 2 was launched, adding the Jup‑8 V and Prophet V to the previous offering. By 2020, the Collection had reached version 8 and comprised no fewer than 28 instruments including emulations of vintage analogue synths, digital synths and samplers, acoustic and electric pianos, organs, a string synth, and even the Mellotron. But Arturia seem to have an endless appetite for creating soft thingies, and V Collection 9 now includes 32 software instruments, some new, some revised and others as before, plus a library of 14,000 sounds. Hmm... make that 33 instruments if you include Analog Lab V, which provides a simpler way to access the sounds of every instrument and build duo‑timbral mixes of any two of them. Consequently, there’s no way to review all of the Collection in anything short of a book, so I’ll concentrate on its major updates and new synths, starting with four heavily revised instruments.
CS‑80 V4 looks fresher and brighter than its predecessors and includes several changes to the facilities previously offered. Additions include simultaneous triangle and sawtooth waves, PWM/MIDI sync, the LFO and aftertouch directed to pan, an extended selection of Tone Selectors that more closely model the original synth, plus additional LFO parameters and an improved arpeggiator. Another major change is the inclusion of a Voice Dispersion panel that allows you to program the amounts by which various characteristics of each voice differ from those of the others. Omissions include oscillator sync, the channel link button, the 24dB/oct filter option, the LPF on/off and HPF contour on/off switches, and the delay unit on the performance panel. But perhaps the biggest differences are revealed when you open the Advanced panel. This contains three new modulation generators plus a modulation mixer; three assignable destinations for each of velocity, aftertouch, mod wheel and keyboard tracking; plus a three‑slot effects section hosting 16 effects types. The Global settings also reveal the addition of MPE compatibility, which is very welcome.
If all of this makes it sound like V4 is a different synth, that’s not far from the truth, and the changes mean that existing sound banks are no longer compatible with it, so it’s just as well that V3 and V4 can coexist and run simultaneously on the same computer. Comparing them to one another revealed two things. Firstly, the excellent new oscillator technology developed for the Jup‑8 V4 appears not to have made the leap fully to the CS‑80 because, when you play Channels I and II in perfect tune, you still hear a little of the doo‑doo‑daa‑dee‑doo of earlier incarnations. Nevertheless, the new version is markedly superior. If you can’t program the Vangelis sound you want using the CS‑80 V4, it’s time to start looking inward rather than blaming the soft synth.
Prophet V3 has now been split into two synths — the Prophet‑5 V and the Prophet‑VS V — each of which feels more approachable and seems happier as an individual instrument, offering a clearer interface and more accurate sounds than before. Prophet‑5 V is based — visually, at least — upon the Prophet 5 Rev 1, though with a Hold button where the Release on/off should be and a Chord function where the power switch once resided. While retaining the original look, the redundant program selection buttons have been replaced by an arpeggiator, and there’s much more tucked away in the Advanced section, including a second LFO and a powerful function generator (each with two assignable destinations), four assignable keyboard performance curves, and three slots to host its 16 effects types.
As for the sound, it’s different from before, but not as much as you might conclude if you simply step through the factory sounds because some of these are programmed differently. But perhaps the thing that most sets the sound of the Prophet‑5 V apart from its predecessor is the inclusion of Voice Dispersion, which, as elsewhere in the Collection, adds a touch of randomness to each voice’s oscillator pitches, pulse widths and levels, its filter cutoff frequency and amount of resonance, its contour shapes and its modulation depths, all of which can add depth and character to a sound. Whether it’s a more accurate emulation than before is, unfortunately, unknowable at the moment because my beloved Rev 1 is currently languishing in intensive care, so I can’t tell you whether the Prophet‑5 V has nailed that final smidgen of authenticity or not. What I can tell you is that it looks nicer than before, it sounds nicer than before, and it works, whereas my 44‑year‑old synth doesn’t. It gets a thumbs‑up from me.
Now, what about the other half of the dissected Prophet V3, the Prophet‑VS V? At first sight, this looks much like a Prophet VS, but its layout is quite different so, if you’re an experienced VS programmer, you’re going to find yourself hunting for things until you become accustomed to it. And although the basic vector synthesis has been recreated, the Advanced tab reveals enhanced modulation capabilities, an expanded 8x16 matrix with assignable sources and destinations, and four slots to host your selection from 16 effects types. Oh yes, and the waveform library is hugely extended, and you can even import your own samples.
All of these changes might have made it hard to compare the soft synth with the original, except that Arturia’s programmers recreated many of Sequential’s factory patches, so I loaded the same sounds into my original VS and compared the two. I have to admit that those programmers did a fine job; the details and complexities of many of the patches have been recreated with remarkable accuracy, right down to the aliasing that plagued some VS sounds. OK, the original synth sounds a little ‘deeper’ at times, but I doubt that the difference will be of any consequence because a little low‑end EQ applied to the soft synth brings the two instruments much more closely into line with one another. So the only shortcoming worth reporting is that, on my system, Prophet‑VS V refused to allow a buffer length of fewer than 128 samples, and selecting one of the shorter options necessitated a Force Quit. On a more positive note, it seems that the Prophet‑VS V understands original Prophet VS SysEx files, which means that you’ll be able to load existing projects and carry on as before with nothing more than a tweak of EQ. And, if you fear that you’re going to miss the 5VS mode of the previous Arturia emulation, upgrading to V Collection 9 doesn’t remove the Prophet V3, so you can work simultaneously with the new Prophet‑5, the new Prophet‑VS and the previous Prophet V3 in 5VS mode. That’s a win‑win.
Arturia’s acoustic pianos have endured a fair bit of criticism from some quarters but, once Piano V was replaced by V2, I felt that much of this was exaggerated. Sure, you can buy dedicated instruments and huge sample libraries that sound more authentic, but there is something about modelled pianos that I rather like. In common with the other revised instruments in the Collection, Piano V3 is a significant departure from its predecessors. It includes 12 piano models programmed using a much‑revised GUI that offers a slightly smaller selection of parameters. Most noticeably, you have less control over the virtual microphones, both in terms of placement and contribution to the overall sound. In addition, the five‑band EQ has been simplified to three bands, the stereo delay has disappeared, and there are fewer reverb spaces. Strangely, an overdriveable preamp has appeared and, if you want to clip your piano sounds, this is where you can do so. I have no idea why Arturia added this, but you may find a use for it. There’s also a simple limiter if you wish to invoke it.
In some (albeit rather brief) tests, I found that Piano V3 was almost always superior to V2, although there are a couple of things that the earlier version can do that the later can’t. I’m not sure that I would use either to play Rachmaninov’s second wotsit to a knowledgeable audience, but for ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ performed in a stadium, Piano V3 is more than passable. Given the significance of the changes, I wouldn’t treat it as a revision. If you were less than a fan of the Piano V2, I suggest that you approach the Piano V3 as a new instrument and see what you think.
There are four new instruments in V Collection 9. Two of these are emulations of vintage synths — the Ensoniq SQ‑80 and the Korg MS‑20 — while the other two, Augmented Strings and Augmented Voices, offer a modern take on string and vocal synthesis.
Do you remember the Ensoniq SQ‑80? Even if you were old enough to be able to afford one in 1987, do you remember it? To be fair, an updated ESQ‑1 with additional waveforms and other enhanced features must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but even the provision of polyphonic aftertouch wasn’t enough to drag the SQ‑80 into the mainstream, and it was completely overshadowed by the D50 and M1, and was soon replaced by Ensoniq’s own VFX and its derivatives. Consequently, Arturia’s release of the SQ‑80 V came as a bit of a surprise, especially when there are so many other, seemingly worthier vintage synths still in need of modelling.
But a few hours spent with the SQ‑80 V demonstrates that it’s capable of creating sounds that would be difficult or even impossible to obtain using anything else in the Collection. These are generated by three oscillators replaying gritty 8‑bit sampled waveforms (the original SQ‑80 waves, plus a selection of Ensoniq’s Transwaves and the so‑called ‘hidden’ waves that you could wring from the ESQ‑1 and SQ‑80) through a filter section modelled on the CEM3379, followed by an amplifier and a four‑slot effects section. Four contour generators and a sophisticated modulation section then allow you to shape and twist things in all manner of ways. Unfortunately, the SQ‑80 could be a bit of a pig to program, and Arturia have managed to retain some of that, so you’ll have to spend a bit of time learning it if you wish to journey beyond the factory patches or serendipitous tweaks thereof. But it can be worth it. The SQ‑80 V produces a superb selection of glassy sounds; pads are its forte, but you’ll find a weird and wonderful range of basses, brass, flutes, chimes and much more lurking within, many suffering from the outrageous levels of aliasing that somehow added character to the SQ‑80 rather than rendering it useless. You might not buy the Collection for the SQ‑80 V, but you’ll find it to be much more than just a bonus.
For many purchasers, the cream of this particular crop may be the MS‑20 V, which Arturia created in collaboration with Korg themselves. Why Korg should be interested in doing this when they have their own MS‑20 soft synth is an interesting question, although not one to which I have an answer. But the two versions can sound surprisingly different, so maybe the companies felt that there was room in the market for two flavours. What’s more, there are many additions in Arturia’s version, not least of which is the ability to direct a single source in the patch bay to multiple destinations. But let’s not overlook pulse‑width modulation, oscillator sync, individual outputs from the oscillators (yippee!), emulations of both the Korg‑35 (MkI) and OTA (MkII) filters, additional modulation, MIDI velocity and aftertouch patchable from the panel, MPE compatibility, six‑voice polyphony, unison... and much more.
In short, the MS‑20 V is a far more powerful synthesizer than the original MS‑20 and, in addition to the synth itself, it includes a sequencer based loosely on the Korg SQ‑10, plus an effects section with four slots and 16 programmable effects. I tested Korg’s and Arturia’s soft synths against one another and against my original MS‑20 and found, to my surprise, that there were many occasions when Arturia’s version was a more accurate emulation than Korg’s. There were also many occasions when it wasn’t... but in a good way. It can exhibit a gnarly grittiness that I rather like because, when soft synths fail to capture the essence of a revered analogue synth, it’s often because they sound too tame. But that’s not an accusation that one can level at the MS‑20 V. I can see many users loving it.
At first sight, the last two of the new synths sit a little uncomfortably within the Collection because, rather than emulate a vintage instrument, they’re derived from one of Arturia’s own soft synths. Much is common to both Augmented Strings and Augmented Voices and, although their GUIs are very different from the original’s, both appear to be based upon Pigments. Each synth contains two Layers that can host versions of Pigments’ sample playback, analogue, granular, harmonic and wavetable synthesis engines, plus a filter section containing six unusual types, my favourite of which is the formant filter, which can take almost any source and mould it into a choral sound or twist it into shapes that reach far beyond. There are also two effects slots per Layer hosting your choice from 14 effects types, plus a global delay and a reverb on the output bus. In addition to all of this, you’ll find multiple contour generators, extensive modulation and performance capabilities, an arpeggiator, and no fewer than eight macro controllers, with four directed to the sound engines and four to the effects. Since all of this is common to both Augmented synths, the difference between them comes down to their sample libraries.
I can imagine many people asking why Arturia didn’t include Pigments itself, but maybe Augmented Strings and Augmented Voices herald the introduction of a series of Augmented products, with each dedicated to a specific family of sounds. Whatever the philosophy behind them, I rather like the two that we have here and, as befits my status as an old fart, my favourite sounds were the Mellotron‑esque patches that I obtained from each of them, full of character and eminently usable. But I’m sure that you’ll discover much more. To be honest, I hadn’t expected much from either of these synths, and was very pleasantly surprised.
By necessity, this has been a whistle‑stop tour of the new bits in V Collection 9, and I haven’t been able to discuss the MPE support that’s appearing in many of the instruments, NKS support, the massive new library of sounds, the ‘in‑app’ tutorials, or how well (or not) the latest version of Analog Lab handles both the new and legacy instruments and sound banks. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the MS‑20 and SQ‑80 emulations are excellent additions, while the Augmented synths add unexpected new flavours to the suite. Alongside these, the improvements to the CS‑80, Prophet‑5, Prophet‑VS and acoustic piano are far from trivial, and I’m impressed that Arturia continue to invest as much time and money as they do in revisiting and enhancing existing products.
Of course, arguments will continue to rage about whether some minor or arcane aspects of a given soft synth are indistinguishable from a specific unit of its inspiration and, no doubt, some people will take great pleasure in finding and promulgating these differences. But do they matter? I’m not sure that they do. The quality of soft synths has progressed rapidly in recent years, and I believe that it’s time to stop asking, ‘Is it identical in every respect with the original?’, and time to start asking, ‘Is it as good and as musically useful as the original?’ Forensic comparisons may float your boat but they’re not making you a better musician. So let’s ask... are the imitative synths in V Collection 9 as good and as musically useful as their inspirations? At the risk of being shot to pieces by fanatics, I think that they are. If you ask me whether I can find differences if I go hunting for them, yes, of course I can. If you ask me whether these differences would stop me from composing, playing and recording the same piece of music... no, they wouldn’t, and I very much doubt that you would be aware of any differences once I had done so.
If you’re lacking a substantial fraction of a million quid and a warehouse in which to keep your collection of vintage synths, grand pianos, Hammonds, Mellotrons and everything else, V Collection 9 is a remarkably practical, euphonic and affordable alternative.
At €599$599, V Collection 9 isn’t within everyone’s reach but, when you consider that this equates to around £16$16 per instrument, it’s remarkable value. Sure, you may not use all of them, but they’re there if you want them and, with the earlier products being updated to modern standards, they’re almost universally useable. If you’re lacking a substantial fraction of a million quid and a warehouse in which to keep your collection of vintage synths, grand pianos, Hammonds, Mellotrons and everything else, V Collection 9 is a remarkably practical, euphonic and affordable alternative.
- The breadth of instruments in the Collection is astounding.
- The sound quality can be equally so.
- If you take advantage of everything that it has to offer, it’s excellent value.
- Some of Arturia’s soft synths can take up a lot of screen space.
- There are a few bugs still to be swatted.
Arturia’s already vast collection of soft synths sounds better with every revision and just became even, umm... vaster. I doubt that any one person will ever fully plumb its depths.