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Steinberg HALion 7

Steinberg HALion 7

HALion is back, and it’s bigger, better and FMier than ever!

While Steinberg are perhaps best known for their DAW software, their product catalogue also includes some excellent virtual instruments. HALion is the flagship item on this list. It can run as a stand‑alone instrument, or in any DAW as a plug‑in (VST3, AAX and AU formats are supported). As well as playback and performance features, HALion also provides a substantial set of tools for creating your own instruments using samples, synthesis or a combination of both. These tools are suitable for the keen DIY sound designer to build their own unique sounds but, via the Macro and Library Creator options, also allow developers to produce unique front‑end designs and commercial library expansion packs for the HALion or HALion Sonic platforms (HALion’s more compact offspring that provides ‘player only’ functions but with plenty of options for editing preset sounds). With a good selection of sound expansion packs available, either HALion or HALion Sonic can provide a front‑end to an expansive sonic palette that crosses a wide range of musical genres.

Steinberg have now launched HALion 7, some six years after its predecessor. The core purpose remains the same but there are plenty of new and revised features within the latest release. Additionally, alongside the full, flagship product, they have introduced two new HALion Sonic options. First, HALion Sonic 7 itself is available as a free‑to‑download product. Second, the new HALion Sonic 7 Collection (priced at £214$249.99) bundles the free player with all of the current instruments supplied with the full version of HALion 7. As we will see in a moment, that’s an impressive collection so, if your level of sound design only goes as far as tweaking existing presets (which HALion Sonic most certainly lets you do), and you don’t want to dig deeper into the sound‑design process, this might be an attractive option.

New Look

So, what’s new in the full version? Well, in the background, Steinberg have added support for Apple Silicon and dongle‑free licensing. However, more obvious to existing HALion users will be a refresh of many parts of the UI. On this front, there are detailed changes in virtually every area of the software; improved menu layouts, greater control over the layout, size and arrangements of sub‑windows, and workspace presets that can be configured for different workflows/tasks. The MediaBay has also been overhauled to provide an improved browsing and searching process, making it easier to fine‑tune your selections, whether for presets, multis or sound layers.

Optimisation of the UI is important because, as shown in the screenshots, when it comes to the collection of available sub‑windows or panels required to house all of HALion 7’s extensive functionality... well, there are plenty of them! There is no hiding that HALion 7 is a deep application and virtually every sub‑window/panel offers a multitude of controls to explore. Yes, if you just want to load a preset or three, make some modest tweaks and get playing, then you can, but with a PDF Operation Manual running to nearly 700 pages, don’t expect to master all that HALion7’s interface has to offer without putting some time in.

In The Zone

Whether for creating your own sounds from scratch, or playing back sounds created by others, HALion already offered comprehensive sample‑based instrument construction options as well as individual engines for virtual analogue, wavetable and granular synthesis. Each of these has its own ‘zone’ (sub‑window) of dedicated controls. HALion instruments can be built from a single layer using just one of these engines, or from multiple layers, either of the same engine or a mixture of engines. All of the existing sampling/synthesis options have been given new features, but perhaps the highlight of this release are two additional synthesis engines; the FM Zone and Spectral Zone.

The FM Zone includes a huge range of algorithm presets and also lets you design your own.The FM Zone includes a huge range of algorithm presets and also lets you design your own.

With Yamaha as Steinberg’s parent company, and also creators of some of the most popular FM hardware synths ever made (from the DX7 in 1983 through to the Montage series launched in 2016), FM synthesis is an obvious candidate for integration into HALion. It ships with a healthy crop of presets and these include some fantastic bass, piano, pad, lead and chromatic percussion sounds. If you start with one of the presets, your tweaking needs might easily be satisfied via the UI of FM Lab’s Macro window (shown in the main screenshot) with its various tabs for Osc, Pitch, Filter, Amp, Effects and various modulation options. Your modified sound can then be saved as a new preset within the MediaBay’s user folder system.

However, if you want to start a sound from scratch, HALion 7’s Home page lets you pick the required synth/sampling engines — including the FM engine — to get started. If this is your first HALion experience, it’s at this point that you will quickly realise a couple of related things: FM synthesis is not for the faint of heart and, therefore, HALion 7’s FM Zone is a pretty deep experience. Those versed in the dark arts of FM sound creation will, however, find lots to love. For example, as well as being able to design your own algorithms of carriers and modulators using the (up to) eight operators, you also get preset algorithms based upon those found in the TX81Z, DX7 and the FM‑X (as used in the Montage synths) algorithms. A Finder page lets you search for algorithms based upon different numbers of operators/carriers. There is also a good selection of algorithm presets designed for particular instrument types. These cover pads, pianos, organs, strings,...

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